Eating 25 Chocolate Bars Might be Good for You

A couple weeks ago, I read this post by Movement mentor Craig Keaton: Two Questions That Forever Changed How I Eat. I passed it along to several friends that struggle with eating/nutrition belief systems and the resulting brain dump ensued after the following statement was made to me:

In regards to this quote in the post: “Do you have positive responses from ‘bad’ foods?” I’m guessing this was a gross oversimplification of a more complex system, because all it makes me think is that if I like eating 25 chocolate bars, I should do it.

Ask Better Questions

Eating chocolate bars to feel good is absolutely what he means, but there are several other factors at play as well. It’s ok to eat bad foods as long as you’re conscious about the reason you’re eating them and/or how many of them you’ve eaten. It depends on the questions you asked yourself before deciding to eat them too, whether it’s because you’re celebrating or you’ve just received some bad news.

The questions you need to ask yourself are based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. These are the necessities to life itself, and at its core, the brain is programmed for self-preservation. By relieving your brain of these (real or perceived) stresses, you free up more mental space for fun and positive thoughts.

1. Biological and Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep.
2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, limits, stability, freedom from fear.
3. Social Needs – belongingness, affection and love, – from work group, family, friends, romantic relationships.
4. Esteem needs – achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, self-respect, respect from others.
5. Self-Actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

There are infinite options within each of these needs so to provide some specific examples, I usually ask myself the question, “Can I ______?”, in this order, from good to bad:

  • Air – Sit and breathe. Relax. Think.
  • Movement – Climbing. Kettlebells. Bodyweight training. Mountain biking.
  • Self-Actualization – Writing. Social media. Brainstorming. Daydreaming.
  • Time in nature – Go for a hike. Go for a walk. Work in my garden. Climbing. Camping.
  • Drink – Water. Coffee. Tea.
  • Eat – Meat. Fruit. Vegetables. Nuts. Trailmix.
  • Sex – (lol?)
  • Sleep – Power nap. Bed for the evening.
  • Lack of movement – Watching TV. Facebooking. Watching a movie.
  • Drink – Beer. Alcohol. Fancy coffee (tons of sugar and cream and chocolate)
  • Food – Chocolate bars. Chips. Cookies. Cake. Ice cream.

Bad Stress (Distress)

Because my goals revolve around freelance, living in a van, becoming a stronger climber, and my overall physique, you can see why I’ve prioritized the list in the way I have. Most of the activities and alternatives support those goals. The bottom three, do not. But they do serve a purpose.

The reason eating chocolate, or even eating 25 chocolate bars, isn’t bad for you is that it’s resolving stress.

The expedient resolution of a distressful state through bad food may actually be better than prolonging, or making worse, a distressful state.

If you’re eating them for stress relief or boredom, you also need to ask yourself, “What else could I do instead?” If you can answer that question easily and the resulting action is not self-destructive, great! Go do that instead! But if you’re in a funk and nothing comes to mind immediately, start asking yourself the questions above.

Good State/Good Stress (Eustress)

If you’re having a fantastic day and feeling great about the world and your life and want to celebrate, you can still go down that same list. Start with things that support your goals and ambitions and work your way down to the bad stuff. If you’ve determined that eating chocolate is the best thing you can do for yourself, great!!! But that’s not a free pass to overindulge. Calories are still a thing and you should still be mindful of your goals. Celebrate, acknowledge your achievement, and move on.

Be Conscious because Calories Still Mean Something

Whether you’re eating because of a distressful state (this is where chocolate has a negative association) or a eustress state, you must still be conscious of how much you’re eating. Calories mean something but you might not know everything they mean.

There are mechanisms inside the brain and the body that are triggered by eustress and distress. That stuff is complicated and absolutely no one has them figured out in a system-wide application. Some people have some parts of individual mechanisms figured out in isolation, but when you start adding in the endless variables of the human body, psyche, and external environment (real or perceived), almost no ‘facts’ are agreed upon. What more and more people are agreeing on though, is that when you’re under distress, you don’t utilize the nutrition and calories available in your body as efficiently as when in a eustress state.

I am firmly planted in the Calories in, calories out camp when a diet is analyzed over a significantly relevant period of time, but, on a day-to-day basis, I know that’s not all that’s going on. This is why sometimes you just look at food and gain five pounds, and sometimes you eat five pounds of food in one sitting and still manage to lose weight the next day. Eating an excess of 3,500 calories in a single day will not lead to a calorie-for-calorie match in fat storage, but if you string three, four, five, 14 days of those together, you will start to notice a change for the worse regardless of your reason for eating that much.

So again, on a singular day, if you need to resolve a stress in order to move on and the only way to do that is by eating 25 chocolate bars, go on with your bad self. That’s better than eating 10 chocolate bars 10 days in a row if you haven’t resolved the stressor or tried something else to continue positives in your life.

Simplifying the Complex

Up to now, I’ve confirmed the belief that the original comment was a gross oversimplification of a complex system, but I felt you needed some background information. All of that complexity should now disappear by disregarding mechanisms, variables, psychology, and taking the ‘black box’ approach.

Black Box Stress Resolution

The Movement creators and practitioners use a method to test which choice (Maslow’s hierarchy) is best for you at that specific time, given a specific stress. Once you find which method is best, you can then test specific items beneath that. For instance, if eating chocolate bars is the best thing for you to do to resolve that stress, you can test which chocolate bar you should eat (if you want) and how many you should eat. Until your intuition, knowledge, and experiences are sufficiently informed through testing, you could test after each bite if you’ve had enough. This will prevent you from overindulging (assuming you’ve bought into the validity of the test which is a monstrosity of a barrier for almost 100% of new practitioners).

After you’ve used this method and noted which methods work the best to resolve specific stressors over time, you will start to inform your intuition for any time you encounter a stress in the future. When your test results start to match what your intuition is telling you a significant number of times, the test becomes obsolete (but can still always be used when there’s doubt).

In application, this ‘overly complex system’ looks like this:

1) Why do I want to eat chocolate?
2) Can I do something else instead?
3) Test other options
4) Chocolate is best? Ok. How much?
5) Test quantity

My Application

So, is the decision to eat chocolate a complex decision? This novel makes it seem like it, but it’s really not. It starts with psychological state at the time of the desire to eat chocolate, a few simple questions, and the test. The complexity goes away by being sensitive to the sensations of my body, informing my intuition and experiences through testing, and being conscious of the outcomes of my actions. After a while, the test goes away, and then it becomes even simpler.

This is why all of my training and nutrition advice is counter to what people believe. Because my only belief system is to not believe in belief systems and only do the things that test well for you, at that given time, to support your goals. I question everything. I question good food vs. bad food. I question good form vs. bad form. I question reps and sets. I question the usefulness of an FMS exam. I question if foam rolling is actually doing something for you physiologically or psychologically. I ask you questions that force you to question your own beliefs.

It is only once you start listening to what your body is telling you that you can make the fastest possible progress, no matter what Men’s Fitness and Shape are telling you.

This is why, regardless of the actual question you’ve asked me to help you with, I almost always address your psychology, whether you realize it or not. Because a lot of people have a lot of belief systems that are holding them back.

If you’re interested in more of this rabbit hole, I’ve included some additional reading I wrote four years ago. This is important because 1) It shows how far ahead The Movement has been in regards to the rest of the industry, 2) The quality of writing may be less than you’re used to, and 3) The pictures got lost in the domain transfer from AthleteCreator to LowGravityAscents.

Psychological state management Part 1: lowgravityascents.com/2010/10/20/my-journey-with-state-management/

Psychological State Management Part 2: At what cost? lowgravityascents.com/2010/12/16/psychological-state-management-part-2-new-methods-but-at-what-cost/

The most anabolic things in life (this is a psychology post masked in humor with ‘on the surface’ examples.) http://lowgravityascents.com/2010/07/19/the-most-anabolic-things-in-life/

South Platte Devil's Head

Climbing Inspiration: Surround Yourself with Who You Want to be

Rock climbing South PlatteI just got done working a climbing event for Evolv at The Spot in Boulder, and while this may be beer induced, it is still incredibly true. What I’m about to say is not novel or mind-blowing. But when it hits you like a ton of bricks, you’re all like, “f*ck, why didn’t I do this sooner?!?!!” (Or why did I ever remove myself from this situation?)

First off, just being in a climbing gym, when you can’t climb the whole time, and have to sit there and watch while other people climb and the music gets you amped, is torture. Good torture.

I know climbing shouldn’t be a competitive sport. I don’t always view it that way. But that’s who I am. A competitor. Always.

Even when people don’t know I’m competing with them, I am.

I don’t project that onto others though. I don’t care if I climb 3 or 4 grades ahead of you (which is rarely the case here in Colorado; I can’t stress that enough). If you’re stoked to climb, I want to climb with you. I will encourage you to climb whatever it is you want. At whatever level.

Climbing South PlatteMeanwhile, I am totally comparing myself to you. But not in a derogatory way. I don’t spite you. I don’t wish you ill will. I totally want you to crush your project. Honestly. It’s possible that I want to feel the happiness and rush of you sending your project. Shit, I want to be your belayer on the 20 failed attempts prior. But seriously, I’m judging myself against you. Your success inspires me to push myself to be a better climber.

Tonight, besides the awesome competitors in the dyno comp and the numerous people bouldering much harder stuff than me, I was hanging out with my fellow Evolv athletes. These guys made me feel completely inadequate. Not maliciously. Not intentionally. Just as innocently as I would have done to others in a similar situation.

They were talking about their climbing grades. Not bragging, and not rubbing it in. That’s how climbers talk: “Hey, have you done that 12c called ‘such and such’ yet?!?! It’s f*ckin awesome!!” No dude. Come talk to me about 10c.

I wasn’t mad at them. I didn’t think they were dicks. They were just assuming I was at their level. No harm, no foul. But god, did it light a fire under my ass. I wanted to be like these guys (and one female teammate stopped by that boulders V10). I wanted to be able to push them. And have them push me. I want to be in the gym 3 days a week and climb outside 3 days a week. I want to train like I trained for football. Relentlessly.

And just to shed any possible negativity from them that you may still be perceiving out of context, I eventually did say, “yo, man, I only look at 5.12’s from the ground. I don’t get on them.” To which he replied, “dude, I don’t care if you fall on 5.8. I just want to climb with people that are stoked about climbing.”

#Bliss

Sport Climbing South PlatteAnd that’s the thing. Climbers don’t care about other climbers’ abilities. Just as I mentioned about myself above. We just want to surround ourselves with people that want to crush. All the time. At any level.

I, personally, use that fuel to inspire myself. And compete.

But, this comes with a caveat.

I’ve talked to more than several strong climbers that said they had their breakthrough by having someone stronger put them on routes they didn’t think they could do. And pretty much forced them to do it (in a non-threatening way). People have tried to do this to me. Because they assume, “that’s how I did it; that’s how you should do it.” But I’m not wired that way. I have a way I go about things. That don’t scare the f*ck outta me. That doesn’t allow me to flail and flail and project and project. Flailing and failing causes me stress. Distress. And no one learns that way. Not efficiently anyways.

That means I need more practice. Better practice. That means, to catch up to these people, I need to be a little more dedicated to my training. Consistently. And do it my way. That means using the positive enthusiasm I felt by hanging out with such great athletes tonight, every day going forward. That means I need to surround myself with these people. I need to climb with them. I need to let them nudge me, but not push me. And I’ll get there. I’m rededicating myself to climbing. Eating, training, being. The competition is on. And I’m ready for it.

Thanks to my teammates for unknowingly motivating me. Thanks to the climbers that had even less of a clue. I’ll be at the gym at 6:30am from now and possibly after work. What are you doing to keep up? Or distance yourself further from the pack?

How to Tell if I should go to the Gym or Stay Home

Don’t even act like both of these scenarios haven’t happened to you:

  1. You don’t feel like going to the gym, you go anyways, you have a record breaking workout session and leave feeling like Superwoman
  2. You’re super stoked to go hit leg day, your warm-up set feels like your 1RM (1-rep max), you end up hurting yourself, and go home in pain and pissed off

Don’t get me wrong, I struggle with this too. I’ve gone to the climbing gym, warmed up on a V-easy or 5.beginner, and felt like I was climbing La Dura Dura. Other days I’ve been like, “man, I’m starving; I have a post to write; I didn’t get any sleep; and it’s Tuesday. I’ll just go in, do a couple auto-belays, and call it a day.” … Only to climb something much harder or for much longer than expected.

The good news is that those two things don’t happen every single time. They’re probably a rare occurrence, actually. But wouldn’t it be great if there was a way of knowing if you should go to the gym or just sit at home and do something else if you think you might be feeling those things?

I thought so too so I reached out to my fitness/nutrition/life mentor and asked him to write about this for me. Because he’s way smarter than I am.

He’s one of the creator’s of The Movement and is a huge reason I’m the athlete and type of trainer I am today. If you think I’m good at what I do/who I am, you should really read his information. He’s pretty much like Yoda and Darth Vader all rolled into one. Minus the green, plus the arm.

Anyways, here’s a snippet from his post. You’ll have to click the link to get the article in its entirety.

The answer lies in Anatomy and Physiology. Not all parts of the brain are connected to each other and no part of our conscious mind is directly connected to the body. So not only are we not conscious of everything, we aren’t conscious of most things…especially in our body. We’re not all that aware of peristalsis, respiration, perspiration and the overwhelming majority of bodily processes. We’re not wired to be.

How to tell if I should workout or stay home and eat chips

 
 

Single Leg Training for Outdoor Athletes

First, the terms:

Bilateral Stance
Bilateral Stance

Bilateral – Symmetrical stance, toes in line with each other, both feet on the ground

Asymmetrical – Stance in which feet are offset from one another; typically with one foot more forward than the other or could be more off-center from the centerline of your body; both feet on the ground

Unilateral – Only one foot firmly planted on the ground. The other may be resting on a platform for balance or just dangling in air.

Apple Pie – A dessert made with a flaky pastry crust and caramelized apples. Ice cream or sharp cheddar cheese is optional. Bonus points for sugar-glazed top crust.

Asymmetric Stance
Asymmetric Stance

Yes, those are my shoes. Yes, I do wear them near daily when fashion allows.

At this stage of my life, I’m focusing most of my leg training on unilateral movements and perform most of my standing, upper body movements in an asymmetrical stance.

Why?

 

Single Leg Training

Unilateral Stance
Unilateral Stance

What you may not consciously realize, is that most of our movement outdoors is unilateral or asymmetrical. If you think about what we do outdoors, most of it is done on one foot (even if only briefly): hopping from boulder to boulder, stepping over logs, riding snowboard, or getting through a cruxy spot on a climb by doing a high step. Very rarely do we square up, set our feet, and perform some kind of movement requiring maximum muscle activation of the entire lower body.

Single leg training helps you develop balance. Bosu balls and Indo boards are about the most worthless pieces of workout equipment I can think of and only help you develop balance on a moving platform. I don’t know about you, but I don’t spend a lot of time on a ship or walking around with basketballs strapped to my feet.

This is a high step. Because I didn't know what else to do.
This is a high step. Because I didn’t know what else to do.

Balance is the combination of three systems: proprioception, visual, and vestibular. Proprioception is the body’s awareness of itself in space, based on the signals it receives from joint positions transmitted through the central nervous system (CNS). Visual is pretty obvious. It’s the brain’s interpretation of the surface you’re standing on or moving over as seen by your eyeballs. Vestibular takes place in your inner ear and sends signals to the brain about your head’s spatial position.

All three of those can be trained singularly (specifically) or together as one system. Assuming your eyes and inner ears are working fine, unilateral movements mainly train your proprioceptive system and intramuscular coordination.

The other reason I love single leg movements is for joint mobility. I know people that can hit a parallel squat but tumble over backwards as soon as they try to do a one-legged pistol squat. Also, joints are supposed to be mobile and should be able to be moved throughout their entire range of motion (ROM). Strictly doing (heavy) bilateral movements can actually inhibit ROM. Es no bueno.

So, getting to it, my favorite unilateral movements are Bulgarian Split Squats, Pistol Squats, and Step-ups. Most people will likely think of “lunges”, but I don’t care for them on a personal level (they made fun of my mom once) or a physiological level. I am by no means a perfect form Nazi, but I do think they put unnecessary stress on the knee even when done with “perfect form”. If I have to do lunges, I opt for reverse lunges.

If your balance sucks or you have poor joint mobility when just starting out, I recommend doing them in this order: step-ups > Bulgarian Split Squats > Pistol Squats. At each stage of that progression, intramuscular coordination and ROM is increased. However, you don’t have to master one before moving onto the next. Each movement can be scaled to your current ability and can be all be done in parallel. But most likely you’ll master a step-up while you’re still holding onto a pole for a pistol squat.

Step-ups

Step-ups are fairly simple. Find a box you can easily “step-up” on and do it. Depending on how bad your balance and mobility are, you may have to start with a 6” box and work your way up to something a little more substantial, say, 24”-36”.

Note: I don’t really care so much about the over exaggerated hip flexion at the top of the movement from your “off-leg”. It’s wasted movement and doesn’t really gain you anything.

Bulgarian Split Squats

In my 3rd YouTube video ever made, I demonstrate Bulgarian Split Squats. I was nowhere NEAR as comfortable in front of the video camera as I am these days, if you can’t tell. This will definitely increase the necessary ROM and you take the balance portion to the next level. Don’t worry, you can still use your back leg to help out.

Pistol Squats

And finally, the pistol squat. This requires the most balance, mobility, and coordination of them all. You are not likely to be able to do a full-on pistol squat the first time you try. If you’re interested in seeing a progression, I’m sure you can find them on YouTube or let me know if you’d like me to film one. I’d be glad to!

A Case for Bilateral Movements

Ok, I don’t completely neglect bilateral movements. I no longer have a need to squat 325lb. (undocumented personal record is actually 365lb.) or deadlift 420lb.

But they still serve a purpose. There’s no doubt that bilateral movements allow you to build the most amount of strength and hypertrophy (big muscles). I’m still interested in the ability to leap, bound, and have an aesthetically pleasing booty for the ladies. And the best way to accomplish all of those things is incorporating back squats, front squats, deadlifts, power cleans, and jerks into my routine. I may do single leg movements 3 days per week for functional purposes, but I still make sure I do some form or fashion of these at least once. For the booty.

 

What do you think about all of this? What else do you want to know? Do you already do any of these, and how do you think they’re helping (or hurting) your performance?

Burrito Weekend in Indian Creek

When you think of happiness, what comes to mind? Puppies?  A married couple together for 55 years? Seeing your baby?

For me, it’s burritos. Burritos make me happy.

You know what doesn’t make me happy? Indian Creek in Utah.

It’s hot. The approaches are steep. It makes my hands hurt. It makes my body hurt. And in general, splitter cracks crush my soul.

I was tricked and manipulated into going back to Indian Creek, a place I said I’d never return. But this time was different. I planned to eat nothing but burritos for every meal over the course of the entire weekend.

  • Friday night on the drive to Utah: Chipotle and chips
  • Saturday breakfast: homemade breakfast burritos
  • Saturday crag lunch: Brownies and a banana
  • Saturday post-crag, pre-dinner: leftover Chipotle and brownies
  • Saturday dinner: more homemade burritos
  • Sunday breakfast: more homemade breakfast burritos
  • Sunday lunch: Gummy bears and a chocolate malt
  • Sunday dinner: burrito at Jilbertitos in Glenwood Springs
  • Monday lunch: another burrito from Jilbertitos

SO MANY BURRITOS MAKE ME SO HAPPY!!!!

Of course, I couldn’t just live on burritos, which is why I supplemented with chips, brownies, and gummy bears.

Oh! The climbing and scenery weren’t terrible this time around either. I even attempted my first Indian Creek trad lead called Wavy Gravy, 5.10b. However, I bailed on it. There were 3 parties behind us distracting me and passively rushing us along. For me, that’s not a good time to lead, especially when I’m intimidated to begin with. Such is life…

Castle Valley Scenery

Castle Valley Scenery

Six Shooter Towers

Indian Creek Twitch

Indian Creek Twitch

Indian Creek Twitch

Trad Climbing Rack

Indian Creek Twitch

Indian Creek Wavy Gravy

Indian Creek Wavy Gravy

Indian Creek Happiness

Indian Creek Trad Lead

Six Shooter Towers

Indian Creek Cactus

Ancient Art Tower

Off-Width Climbing with Pamela Shanti Pack

First, meet Pamela (and Jay, he was there too, amongst others).

I’ve really been confused ever since Pamela decided to follow me back on Twitter. I mean, I follow a lot of pro athletes, and the only two that are silly enough to return the favor are Pamela and Brody Leven. Logically, my initial thought is that “they’re just doing it to be ‘personable’”. You can imagine how surprised I was when she actually interacted with me! “A pro? Talking to me? Get ouuuuttaaa here.”

Wait, this is about climbing. Right.

So, after a couple more interactions, it turns out she loves climbing Vedauwoo, WY (and if you know who Pamela is, this is no surprise to you). Vedauwoo is only 2 hours from Boulder, and I had been there a couple of times with my buddy Keese. After two or three failed attempts, I finally got up there to climb some wicked f*ckin off-widths with Pamela. None of which looked like this:

Wait, more background.

Not sure what off-width climbing is? Here’s a great explanation (from 0:27 until about 1:20, the rest is just the Wide Boyz trailer):

Now having done all forms of summer climbing but “aid”, I can confidently agree that it is physically the hardest type of climbing I’ve done.

Now climbing.

So anyways, I’ve climbed very short sections of off-width before as part of longer lines, and I’ve found them to be enjoyable. A little bit of a strugglefest, a lot of muscle grunting, and some minor pain endurance. I don’t know why I like that, but I do.

This was that times 23.

Before I showed up, I told Pamela that exact story, and that I had not ever done a true off-width climb. This made her happy. Why? She enjoys watching people suffer. As one of the best off-width’ers in the world, there’s no shortage of that for her.

The warm-up

The plan was to “warm-up” on a 5.9 off-width with a lot of “classic off-width technique” called Someday, Kids, this will all be Yours. I watched two seasoned vets pretty much just walk up that thing so I was feeling pretty confident.

But first, the end of the story: I got home and found out my warm-up was actually a 5.10. And prior to that, I had attempted a 5.10c chimney/face/hand-crack called Skybox. Great. Burnt myself out on a 10c (which is probably equivalent to a Boulder Canyon 5.11c/d), and now doing my first full off-width on a 5.10, which deserves a separate grading system all on its own.

It’s true; it did have a lot of classic off-width technique; I never felt like I was going to fall out of the crack; I didn’t fall; but I think there might have been “a lot of tension on the rope” in some spots. I’ve also never breathed so hard, never worked so hard to gain 6”, and never wanted to quit a climb so much before in my life. And this was the warm-up. Hahahaha!

The memorable quote of this climb is: “So, you’re telling me that you guys climb like this for fun? You know there are such things as hand cracks and crimpers, right?!?!”

This is the first time I almost exclusively used heel-toes, arm bars, and gastons for the entire climb. Thank goodness I was lent an elbow pad.

The “real climb”: The Spins (5.11b)

You won’t find “Spins” on Mountain Project, and I don’t have the Vedauwoo guidebook so if it’s not in there either, I’ve included a beta picture here for reference:

Photo Courtesy of Mountain Project
Photo Courtesy of Mountain Project

The first person to try this line is one of the guys that “walked up” Someday Kids, this will all be Yours, and even he needed a couple of takes . It’s entirely vertical with a section that is slightly overhanging. And just when you think you’re almost done, you have to do an impossible…spin…to get left-side-in instead of your right.

I tried my hardest to blend into the background and not have to climb this line. I was feeling pretty done-for after the first two climbs. Pamela wouldn’t allow it. And the stupid rain held off just long enough for me to lace up my shoes, tie in, and get 2’ off the ground.

Off-width chicken wingThis crack was wide enough that instead of using an arm bar, I used a real high chicken wing the entire way. What people that have never OW climbed before may not realize is that even though the “out” side of your body looks vertical and parallel with the crack, the “in” side of your body is nearly perpendicular. That includes your leg. You can’t see it while watching, but the leg that is in the crack should ideally be completely perpendicular to your body, or as close as possible. You then use your foot as a camming device (that may or may not hold). This puts INCREDIBLE stress on your quads, hip flexors, and groin. Which leads to the memorable quote on this one:

“In all the sports I’ve played, in all the years I’ve played them, I have NEVER felt this much stress on my tissues (muscles, ligaments, tendons)!”

I finally got up the damn thing. It took a lot of patience from my belayer. I had to ascend the belay line to get passed a “mini-crux”. And I’m pretty sure I had some assistance in other spots too. But nonetheless, I still made it up, mostly under my own power. An 11b. On my 2nd off-width ever. In Vedauwoo. That is something to be proud of. At least I am, and that’s all that matters.

Climbing with the pros

So, if you’ll finally let me get to the title of this thing I will.

The fact that Pamela had invited me to climb with her at all already let me know she’s down to earth. We joked a little before I got there so I knew she was genuine. I knew she wasn’t going to be fake and “just let me watch her climb” while I sat there like a lump on a log. Even still, I was blown away by how grounded, chill, supportive, and patient everyone was. It was like I was “one of them”. As if I was an elite level climber too. But I’m far from that. And it didn’t matter.

I never once got the feeling that I needed to “show-off” or do anything I wasn’t comfortable with, but when I’m around people of that caliber, I can’t help but go all out. The constantly being evaluated, constantly needing to perform, constantly needing to be better than everyone psychology has been so deeply engrained into who I am that I can’t shut it off, even when it doesn’t need to be on.

That, and perhaps what I’m about to say, is more telling of my past experience in sports more so than whom I’m with now, but I don’t get that kind of drive or inspiration while climbing with other people. This will sound horrible no matter how it’s worded, but when I climb with others I climb for the fun of climbing. I’ll do 5.7, 5.8, 5.9 all day if that’s all my partners are interested in. I’ll lead 10’s and 11’s if I know the area, or I’ll follow 10’s and 11’s if it’s in a known tricky area and someone else wants to lead them. But in general, I try to keep my climbing low stress. I tend to not push it. My psychology (and fear of leader falls) is totally different.

Climbing with Pamela, Jay, Danny and the rest of the people really flipped that competitive switch. I wasn’t competing against anyone, but it sure felt like that same part of my brain. It felt good. Real good. The masochism required to climb off-widths felt good too. The combination of “needing” to perform and to have an all-out, physical fight with a giant piece of granite felt like something that’s been missing from my life for quite some time. Other forms of climbing require finesse and delicate footwork. Off-width climbing requires a bad attitude and the ability to give a giant “FUCK YOU” to the rock. (Sorry, not censoring that one.) When all else fails, jam and push and pull and smear and do anything you need to do, physically and mentally, to move up another 3 inches.

The day after, I could barely walk. I have road rash on both shoulder blades, a little on my right knee, and what you saw on my chicken-winging elbow. My arms hurt, my abs hurt, and my groin hurt. I have not felt like this since my last hard-hitting football practice. And I only did three short climbs.

Just due to the proximity of all the glorious trad and sport climbing to where I live, I don’t think I’ll ever become known as an off-width climber (or “known” for anything for that matter), but I know for a fact, I’m going to need a regular dose of this. I’ll be back for more.

Trip Report: Climbing in The Black Hills

I’ve been climbing in the Black Hills over the 4th of July for three years in a row now. This trip is all about relaxing, climbing, and enjoying who you’re with, not neccessarily about pushing your limits all the time. We keep it low stress, highly entertaining, and eat way more than we should. Not once have I written a comprehensive trip report about this. I always mean to, but when I come back, other things get in the way. I’m gonna try something a little different this year: write it as I go. Novel, eh?

Day 1: Travel

Piton Perch traverse, VedauwooMy day started early. I called up Keese to see if he wanted to hit a climb or two in Vedauwoo on my way to the Black Hills since I was passing through Cheyenne anyways. Pffffft. Of course he did. But before we hit The Woo, he introduced me to Cheyenne’s premier breakfast place. I had the potato, egg, and bacon breakfast burrito slathered in green chile sauce. Or should I say: “awesomesauce”?

Anyways, we loaded our stomachs and the 2lb. burritos they contained back in my Subaru to head to The Woo. We did a 5.6 chimney route called Piton Perch. Keese led the first pitch, and I got the second, a simple “hike through the formation”. Yeah, “hike”. What they really meant was, “chimney traverse and hope that your C3’s hold or you’ll cheese grater down the slot.” Great. Thanks, Keese. (It actually wasn’t bad. Quite fun, actually.) We topped out and had a fun free-space rappel.

Done with those, back on the road, 4 hours to South Dakota. We say our hello’s and head out to the Bugling Elk for the 1st evening dinner. I had wild boar. Weird, right? Tasted like chicken. Several beers and a Moscow Mule later, we head back to the cabin to figure out what we’re doing the next day.

Day 2: Humble Pie

I’ve been leading really strong lately. Everything has been clicking. Trad lead, sport lead, free solo (5.6’s but hey, it’s still a different headspace)…it’s all going well.

Not here.

I followed up a 5.7 and thought, “hm, kinda awkward.” But no problems.

Then there was a 5.10 sport route looking at me. I’m all like, “bro, what are you looking at? Come at me!”

Trad silhouetteStrike 1

I get to the first bolt after some more awkward moves and maneuvering around a stupid, bulgy overhang in my way. I don’t see any hand holds that I feel like lunging for after the first stance. I back off.

Strike 2

Sick clip the second bolt to protect decking out after lunging for your first set of hands past the 1st bolt. Great, just like top-rope. Getting past the bulge really wasn’t that bad. Bolts 3 and 4 are pretty good, and now I’m at the second crux: another friggin bulge. After messing around for 5 minutes, I back off again because we’ve set a top rope on the route from another set of anchors. We’re climbing with 7 people so efficiency is kind of important. Oh well.

Strike 3, 4, 5

After watching a 17 year old make it past the 3-move crux and finish the route, I have to try again. Get back to the upper bulge, fail. Try again. Fail. Pull on the rope to get to the next move, fail. Pull on the rope more, fail. Pull on the rope more, got it. <rolls eyes>

We moved to another area and had a couple top-ropes already set after one of the more daring members of the group trad’ed up a stiff “5.9”. I managed to top-rope a 5.10 cleanly, get spit off a 5.9, and I think I finished another 5.9+. We’re not sure how/where that route finished. It was weird. Trust me.

So anyways, I have to remind myself The Needles are not Colorado. I can’t expect to walk up a 5.10 or 5.11. Here’s to hoping I can find some “easier” stuff tomorrow. Geesh…

Day 3: Short ‘n Sweet

We went to The Love Knob and started the day with a 5.7 trad lead. There was only 4 of us so we all met on the top. We set top ropes on a 5.8 hand crack and a 5.10+ slab. The weather was coming in so a couple people did the 5.8, and I did the 5.10+. After the previous day, I wasn’t feeling confident, but I made it without a fall. Hoooray!

Back to the cabin we go.

Once the rain stopped, we decided to take the kids to an easy area behind the Sylvan Lake Dam. I top roped a stout 5.7. I would have led it, but, you know, 2 bolts for a 90′ climb didn’t appeal to me.

Day 4: So Picturesque

I got the honor of leading one of the coolest features I’ve seen in The Black Hills. The area is called “Picture Window” and the route is called Gossamer. It’s only a 5.7, but it’s pretty intimidating. You climb a GIANT flake that has a huge wind blown hole going through the middle. It was just cool.

After that, I hit a 5.11b on top rope called Broken Window and a beastly 5.9+ that had an off-width section, and then turned into a teeny-tiny crystal pulling fest. It was almost harder than the 5.11.

The last area we went to that day was “Shipyard Rock” in the South Seas. We did a sweet 2-pitch 5.8 called “Waves”. It has some groovey vertical “fins” that I haven’t seen anywhere else in the Black Hills. The view from the top was pretty spectacular, but NO PICS FOR YOU!!

Day 5: Half-day Rest day

Did a quick and easy 5.8 lead with a bunch of chicken heads for natural pro. Then we went around the spire and did a cool 5.9+ up a flake system.

Called it a day. Went back to the cabin to get dinner marinating. Wished I had climbed all day instead.

Day 6: Rain, rain go away

We had two newcomers join the group, one of which was really looking forward to climbing. However, as we turned a corner and crested a hill, I knew the clouds wouldn’t cooperate. But I still had hope.

We ventured out, despite the high chance of getting rained on, and I decided that I really wanted to get this new person on the rock. There was a 5.6 I did last year called “Boxcars and Airplanes“, and it’s quite a short climb. I ran up as fast as I could to set a top rope for her, but just as my feet hit the ground, the rain started, and it could not be ignored.

But my quick draws were up there. Shit.

Despite the very distant thunder and lightning, I decided I wanted my draws. I think that was the fastest I’ve ever climbed an outdoor route. Thank goodness it was on top rope.

Day 7: I don’t want to talk about it

According to the forecast the night before, the rain was supposed to be on and off all day. That really sucked because I had gorrrrrgeous 170′ chimney picked out that I wanted to trad lead on Old Baldy. Rather than risking leaving an $80 cam in a chimney to lower off of in the event of a storm, we just decided to not climb this day.

Which was stupid.

Steven and Josh (have I mentioned Josh yet? There was a “Josh” with us. There, now I have.) decided they were going to just hike around and look for climbs while the rest of us went and did touristy stuff. They were smart enough to bring gear and rope with them, and ended up getting in several pitches that day.

Steve and Josh – 1; David – 0

Day 8: The final day

Just hangin' out, waiting for my turn to lead Garfield Goes to Washington.
Just hangin’ out, waiting for my turn to lead Garfield Goes to Washington.

All week Steve had mentioned he “only had 1 goal this whole trip” (yeah right, Steve) and that was to do a 3-pitch, 5.8+ trad route called “Garfield Goes to Washington“.

Josh and his brother Jeff left the night before so there were only 4 climbers left. This worked out perfectly so that I could be the other leader, rather than taking up 3 or 4 of us on one rope. What a pain that would be! Plus, I really wanted to lead it too.

The whole route was pretty chill…until you got to P3. Looking up from the belay station, it’s not intuitively obvious where you’re supposed to go. The outer slab looked low angle…but slabby. Straight up from the station looked blocky and chunky but nearly vertical with about 2′ diameter bowls quite a ways up. This is concerning because I’m not seeing in cracks. Did I mention we’re trad climbing? No cracks = no pro. And the outer slab didn’t have any nearby cracks either. Great.

I opted for the chunky, vertical, dished out bowl option. It was chunky and easy climbing for the first 10′, and I even got a piece in. At least my belayer was now protected (for the most part). Then I made it up to the first bowl, about 20′ off the belay slab, 10′ from my last piece. Look around, look around….no pro. Only option is to go up, and the route is getting more vertical and less chunky. I’m actually having to “climb”.

After a minuscule mental freak out and a few deep breaths, I make it up to the second bowl, 25-30′ off the belay slab, 15-20′ up from my last piece. Fuuuuuuuuuuuudge.

Storm coming on the top of Garfield Goes to Washington

This time when I look around, I notice somewhat of a mushroom shaped dish on the bottom of the bowl. “I think I can sling this!!!!!!” I thought to myself. Sure enough, it held. I had my first piece of pro in the last 20′. It was by no means bomber, but damn did that feel good. Also, “look, a bolt!!” The moves here were a little thin too, and I wasn’t greatly excited about taking a leader fall on a slung dish, but at least it was only 6′ to the bolt. I made it, and clipping a bolt never felt so good.

 

The rest of the route was low angled and had jugs on jugs on jugs on jugs. I absolutely LOVED the run out. I don’t know what it is about trad, but big run-outs get me amped. Remember that 5.6 free solo I talked about a long time ago in the beginning? I definitely get it. It’s not something I seek out. In fact, if I see an “R” or “X” rating on a route, I won’t even consider doing it, but if I’m not aware of it and it just happens to happen, man, that’s great.

As my partner and I got to the summit, there was a huge thunderstorm about 15 miles away from us, but we could see the downpour. I snapped a few selfies because I’m awesome like that, and then we got the heck outta Dodge. (As it turns out, we barely got a dribble where we were.)

We all ate our final meal together at the Bavarian Inn, fed some burros on the National Wildlife Highway, packed some stuff, and called it a night.

Day 9: Goodbye

Cathedral Spires from the top of Garfield Goes to College
Cathedral Spires from the top of Garfield Goes to College

 

 

As per usual, the rest of the pictures…

My First Alpine Climb: Great Dihedral and Standard Route on Hallett Peak

If you’re looking for a beta spray on those routes, this is not your post. Check out this guy’s Hallett Peak Trip Report. I didn’t see it until I got back, but he did a wonderful job and took all the relevant pictures that we did not. If I had seen it before we left, I’m sure our trip would have went a little more smoothly.

Nonetheless, for my first alpine, I think everything went really well and no real scary spots.

The approach was quite easy. (Shhhhhhhhh! Don’t tell anyone else!) We started at the Bear Lake trailhead and strolled the easy 2 miles up to Emerald Lake. We paused for about 30 sec. to take a look at where we were headed (Hallett is in obvious plain site by now) and continued on. There’s a about three-quarters-to-a-mile of easy scree field scrambling and just a couple of short snow traverses. We were at the base of the climb in no time.

The weather did not suck all day.
The weather did not suck all day.

We were considering several bottom route variations and settled on Great Dihedral, a 3-pitch 5.7. We flipped a carabiner to see who got the first lead, and as it turned out, I won. I solo’d up the first Class IV/V scramble and then waited for Keese to join me. We had actually thought that first “pitch” was supposed to be more technical. But since it wasn’t, Keese allowed me to take P2 as well.

Now, about these “3 pitches”. Let me back-up a little. During the planning phase of this climb, we decided to go with Keese’s 50m, “9.something” rope as opposed to my ginormous, beginner’s 10.8, 60m rope. On top of that, for a reason I did not understand at the time, we decided to leave some gear back at my apartment to lighten the rack. We still had a complete rack, but as you will see, more would have been better. Getting back to the climb…

After I lead “P2”, we were actually on the top of what was supposed to be P1. Now it was Keese’s turn to lead. Remember that shortage of gear? Yup, we had to stop short of the actual P2 anchors and setup another belay because we ran out of pro.

I’m a nice guy, and I would have gladly allowed him to lead up the 2nd half of P2, but due to some anchoring awkwardness, it was just safer and easier for me to continue on and lead the next part. According to Mountain Project, this was the best climbing on the whole route. I felt kind of bad for “stealing” it.

I made it to the belay station for the start of P3, but due to the confusion of intermediate belays, we didn’t actually know that at the time. We thought we had gotten off route. Turns out, we were right where we needed to be, but hindsight is 20/20 (I don’t even really know what that is supposed to mean). We rappelled down to a big ledge traverse and walked over to some Class III scrambling up to the headwall.

From here, we had three choices to get to the top: the standard route (5.5), center route (5.6), or continue Great Dihedral’s line where we left off (5.7).

Because we were running out of time (already “out of time” if this were a typical summer day I suspect), we opted for the fastest, easiest route: The standard route.

I had already gotten the honors of first pitch and “best pitch” so I really wanted Keese to lead the rest of the way, or at least the first and third (final). He got the first. I got the second. And what do you know: lack of gear turned P3 into two pitches. Once again, I stole all the glory by finishing the climb. Oh well, such is alpine climbing, I guess.

All in all, it was a completely stress-free, euphoric day. I was completely comfortable leading and with everything we did. It was a great intro to alpine route, and I absolutely loved the approach. I’m not much of a hiker. Hahaha!

Keese, looking back at our climb with Emerald lake behind him.
Keese, looking back at our climb with Emerald lake behind him.

The big takeaway from the day was this: if one has useful gear, one should bring gear (and not leave it behind).

 

Distance Coaching: Transformed, with Dave’s Help

Editor’s note: Jay and I “met” via Twitter in 2010. He’s been my web designer since I was “Athlete Creator”, then “Dudes With Tents”, and now “Low Gravity Ascents”. Unlike me, who’s fussy, picky, and sporadic (making him start 2 other websites I never followed through with), Jay is an ideal distant client. As he explains, I’m not there to hold his hand and make sure he’s doing everything I say. I just have to hope he follows through, stays motivated, and asks for help when he needs it. As you can see, he does all of those things. Thanks for being a great friend and a great client, Jay! Hope the rest of you enjoy his story…

 

 

Last year in November, I looked like this:

Jay Before

I have been hitting the gym since 2008, with the (losing) attitude of merely fighting off the ravages of a sedentary lifestyle brought on by a long commute and a desk job that allowed for way too much time of mindless eating. I was strong because the sheer mass let me move weights that I wouldn’t even try now, but I didn’t look the way I wanted. I wanted to look lean, I wanted to have the sillhouette of someone in shape, and yes: it’s totally something that’s made popular in culture and by you. I’m not sorry I aspired for it.

How Dave trains

I came across Dave on Twitter in 2010, and I had reached out to him because he cut through a lot of the BS that was floating around in the fitness industry. (And that is enough subject material for its own site.) He irreverently called out peddlers of “broscience.” And he’s in great shape, then as now. So I asked him for a few pointers at first. And at first, I was stubborn and didn’t really follow what he said.

Story of the lives of so many of us. We hear what we need but then discard it because we didn’t actually want to hear it, right? So for a while, I kept on lifting the way I did, and eating the way I did, and instead of fighting off the ravages of time, I was losing to them.

When I got sick and tired of being sick and tired, I opened my mind again, and asked Dave again. And he gave me the same pointers: “try out intermittent fasting,” he said. “I couldn’t possibly hold out for 18 hours,” I complained. But Dave walked me through the process of taking baby steps. There was no need to dive right into 18 hour fasts. So I tried 12 hours at first. And every day I moved the clock a little. Half an hour at a time until I was able to function on an 18 hour fast every day. And day by day I saw the fractions of pounds just slowly but surely shed off.

At the same time, I asked Dave about my lifts. I’ve been lifting willy-nilly, following such formulas as “four sets of eight,” or “five sets of twelve,” and really, wasn’t going anywhere. He introduced me to biofeedback and Adam T Glass’ Gym Movement, and a very scientific, methodical way of testing whether a particular lift was leading towards your goals. As I was losing fat weight, my musculature was still growing. My shoulders started rounding out, and my already bulky legs started gaining definition. My back was getting broader, as was my chest.

I was burning fat and gaining muscle, simultaneously. I wasn’t going through “cutting and bulking” cycles, nor did I put myself through unsustainable dietary restrictions at any time. I ate what I wanted, in the time frame I had alloted to keep with the fast, just keeping calorie counts and rough macro proportions in mind. I bought a kitchen scale and I realized just how tiny a serving of pasta was and how many calories it dumped into you.

Where was Dave in all of this? He checked in and followed up. And that’s the thing about folks who choose distance training: it’s all on you. He wasn’t around me at the gym to “motivate” me by shouting in my face about how weak I am. And even if we lived in driving distance of each other, I know he’s not that kind of “trainer.”

Dave, as my distance trainer, served as the mirror that can only tell the truth. He’d review my workout routine and logs and ask me: “why do you choose that movement,” and when I don’t have an answer, I realize that it didn’t serve my goals and I would find something else instead. He also paid attention to my social media updates and would call me out when he saw something that didn’t make sense to him, or perhaps could have been done differently in order to be more effective.

Time is not fungible, and gym time is priceless. Dave helps by making sure you don’t waste that time.

7 months later, I look like this:

Jay After

I am now training to enter a physique competition. I want to do it by next year. It’s going to take much harder work than what it took to get to where I am now. I am not an after. I am still a before. There’s more work ahead, and I know my distance trainer will keep me on track.

A Weekend in the Mountains Sport Climbing, Trad Climbing on Lumpy Ridge, and Mountaineering on Longs Peak

Editor’s note: I shouldn’t tell you this, but there’s a huge picture gallery at the end of this post.

As someone that is supposedly occasionally good at writing (your words, not mine), I find it quite mind-boggling that I cannot come up with the words, written or verbally, that adequately elucidate my feelings of this past weekend mentally, physically, or socially.

Perhaps it’s still too soon, and I haven’t yet digested everything that occurred. Maybe I’d never find the right words. Or maybe there’s just so much that went on that I’d never be able to concisely summarize it all, regardless of time or concentration levels.

Nevertheless, if I don’t write this now, it will likely forever be lost, just like climbing trips to The Black Hills in South Dakota and summiting Cloud Peak in WY.

Minnesotans Come to Colorado

Leading up to the day of the first arrivals was quite hectic. People bringing this but not that but only if that person didn’t (or did) and rental cars and sleeping arrangements and not knowing if certain people were even coming until the day prior, and, and…. Thank goodness I live here.

The first person showed up on Tuesday night, two more on Wednesday, and the final two on Thursday. And just like they arrived, all returned on differing schedules as well: two driving back, one early flight, and two on a later flight. Thank goodness I live here.

But the time between the chaosii (plural of “chaos”, obviously) was truly unforgettable.

Tuesday Night

Snowshoeing in Indian Peaks WildernessThe first person arrived on Tuesday night, and I gladly offered my couch. I had to work the next day so we planned out a couple of different hiking options for her to experience on her own. Then we realized there would be enough time after I got done working to get in a couple of pitches before she had to pick up some other people at the airport.

The excitement of this night included lost luggage. We hadn’t gone to sleep until midnight as it was, but then she got phone calls at 4 and 4:30am, and I had to explain to the driver how to get to my apartment.

Wednesday was tired.

Wednesday

I had decided to take Lisa to the Upper Bihedral area after I got done with work. There is a good range of climbs in this area: sport, trad, mixed sport and trad, and easy-to-hard ratings. Admittedly, I hadn’t put in many leads yet and she hadn’t climbed outside at all yet this season so we weren’t real sure what we were capable of.

This turned out to be just the kind of evening I needed: no pressure, no expectations, bolted routes, and a few mixed if I was feeling up to it.

We started off with a 5.9 named Hold the Line that looked easy from the ground. They always look easy from the ground. I led it and thought it was a bit much for a first-time-outdoors-this-year leader so I had Lisa follow. She did it cleanly but agreed it was maybe too much. We moved over a couple of routes on the slab, and she led a 5.8 called Dan’s Line. I led it after. We moved on down the line and did Group Therapy, another 5.8, and finished off the night with Trick or Treat, a mixed 5.8, just as the thunder and lightning rolled into the area.

This short 2.5 hour trip to the crag really helped my head. My previous fears of leading disappeared (even though I have led numerous, numerous pitches in my short climbing career). I truly felt like I was ready to lead anything even though these grades are well below my ability. Doesn’t matter. Climbing is 85% mental (I just made that up), and this was a huge barrier of mine. The warm, summer-like storm was icing on the cake, especially watching lightning well off in the distance from the atop a cliff.

Rock Climbing in Clear Creek CanyonThursday

I didn’t get to do anything with the group this day. Work and getting ready for the 3-day weekend consumed my time, but I managed to get in a 16.5 mile mountain bike ride.

Everybody else spent the day sport climbing at Clear Creek Canyon in Golden.

Friday

Another mostly unadventurous day for me, but I did finally get to meet the whole group at the 2nd Tier of the Avalon area in Boulder Canyon. Probably most exciting was doing my first tyrolean traverse over a raging Boulder Creek due to the spring runoff. When I got to them, they had a 5.10b setup on top-rope. In the interest of time (it was already 5:00, we still had to buy food, and get up to our campsite in Estes Park), I didn’t lead it, but I did make it cleanly. And that was that for my day of climbing. Dinner and [mostly] beer at Oskar Blues in Lyons was a great way to get to know the rest of the group. (Beer > people?)

Saturday

We headed to Lumpy Ridge bright and early (by most climber’s standards) for a day of trad climbing. Chris (with a “C”, aka “Weiner”) had picked out a 3-pitch 5.7 called White Whale in the Left Book area. He had a team of three on his twin ropes, and I led all the pitches with a new-to-trad climber, Kris (with a “K”, aka “Schmitty” aka “Decaf” – I will leave that story out to protect the innocent).

This is where I start failing to adequately describe my thoughts.

Yes, this was only a 5.7, but I only had a handful of trad leads under my belt, I just met 4 out of 5 of these people for the first time the day before, and now one of them is trusting me with their life (more so than usual).

The climb itself was absolutely amazing: crack climbing, slab climbing in some spots, lie-backs, flakes, underclings, a lot of great movements. It was really easy and really terrifying: tenuous moves right off the belay stations where a fall was likely to take out the whole station (even with a “Jesus piece”); run out by choice in areas, run out in really sketch areas not by choice; and I even had to build an intermediate, hanging belay in the middle of a pitch due to rope drag.

Reaching the top was almost euphoric: I did it; I did it safely; I got my partner to the top in one piece; I got to “teach” him some trad techniques (just as all followers [should] do); we rejoined the group ahead of us on the “summit”; the missing member of the whole group whom was having car troubles joined us after hiking to the top; and the views of Rocky Mountain National Park were breathtaking.

Such a great, great day was celebrated as it should: sitting around a campfire, eating brats, drinking beer, and being completely comfortable with all of our new friends.

Sunday

After a day of single pitch sport (for them), followed by a day of multi-pitch trad, we were on the hunt for multi-pitch sport. We attempted to get on the main buttress of Mary’s Bust in Big Thompson Canyon, but since none of us were intimately familiar with the area, we ended up on Tick Rock, which only had a couple of 2-pitch routes. Nevertheless, upward we climbed.

Sport leading on Tick RockI followed up one of the 2-pitchers, a 5.9 slab called Nervous Tic, behind “Decaf”. From the ground, the route looks over-bolted. So much so that “Decaf” condescendingly says [to the route], “yeah, I’ll probably skip a few bolts.” I agreed. There was no need for a bolt every 5-6 ft. on this route. And then we climbed. Nary a bolt was skipped. It reminded me a lot of climbing in South Dakota: no hands except pulling on half-pad crystals and trusting your feet so as to not “cheese grater” down the slab if you popped off.

Lisa and Elizabeth (“Liz” aka “Bambi”) practiced their multi-pitch anchoring and rope management on a 5.4 called Arachnophobia before doing it for real on the same 5.9 Kris and I had done before.

Peter got his lead on, on Arachnophobia as well, and Chris was just chilling today, playing the part of safety instructor and rope gun.

At this point, everyone but Kris and I had done several routes and we had only done the 2-pitch, Nervous Tic. We decided we should probably climb some more. I led up a 5.8 off-width/slab called Barock first and Kris seconded. (Later done by Lisa and Liz too.) After that we were having a tough time deciding if we wanted another climb at all, and if so, a 5.9 or a 10d named Ixodes that had been calling Kris all day. Ixodes it was.

After taking a few just naaaasty 3 ft. whippers on the crux move, he finally made it. I had some apprehensions about trying to lead this, but since I can handle 3 ft. whippers and the way to get past it was to pull on gear, I decided to go for it. Yikes. My first lead of the season of any kind higher than 5.9 and almost two grades higher than that nonetheless. Surprisingly, the move before the supposed crux was a lot more difficult for me than the actual crux itself. I flashed it! Hot!

As this was our last night together, libations were more numerous than before. I think there were two trips made to Rambo’s Liquor, which has the coolest owner in the world.

The night ended somewhat earlier and more “serious” than one would like to celebrate an amazing weekend, but Lisa and I had an alpine start planned for 3:30am on Monday morning. I also had to say my goodbyes to Kris and Peter, whom were driving back to Minnesota at 7am.

Monday

3:30 is early.

Especially with only 4 hours of sleep. But hey, if alpine starts were cool, everyone would be doing it. We tore down our portion of camp as quietly as possible and got to the trailhead about an hour later. Which trailhead pray tell? Longs Peak.

We were informed that summiting Longs Peak via the Keyhole would be very risky without technical ice gear. Dratz. In that case, we never intended on summiting. Instead, we planned to get to the Boulder Field below the Keyhole and planned several options depending on how we felt when we got there. That is, until we met two people on the trail that said, “What?! Who told you you need technical ice gear? You have an ice axe and crampons; that’s all you need!” Oh really?!?! Welp, looks like we might get to summit Longs Peak after all.

We made it to the Boulder Field in about 2-2.5 hours, if I remember correctly. This includes watching the sunrise over Twin Sisters Peak East. Since this was my first time in crampons and holding an ice axe with real intent, we practiced ascending direct, descending, traversing in both directions, and self-arrest at the base of a very small slope. Luckily the snow was extremely good for most of the bowl, perfect for n00bs such as myself.

Sunrise over Twin Sisters Peak East as seen from the Longs Peak trail
Sunrise over Twin Sisters Peak East as seen from the Longs Peak trail

We ascended from the Boulder Field up to the Keyhole. Before this, the views of RMNP we obstructed for one reason or another. What I saw at the Keyhole left me grasping for words, yet none came. You could see the entire Western side of RMNP and beyond: Hallett Peak, Otis, Chief’s Head, McHenry’s, Mt. Alice… I was in awe. I had never seen, or was able to comprehend, the vast expanse of the Rocky Mountains until that moment.

I might bleed to death later, but I think I would have won with that blow.
I might bleed to death later, but I think I would have won with that blow.

Lisa is a more experienced mountaineer than I so she went to check out the Keyhole Route to see if we could pass without a rope and ice screws. The snow was still incredibly icy and we decided not to risk it. To be honest, even if the snow was as good as it was on the North Side, it was still too steep and too exposed for me.

We were still feeling good so we decided to hike down a bit and traverse over and up to the chasm view. Before we left, we observed a moment of silence in recognition of Memorial Day, in honor of our fallen soldiers. What a cool place to say thank you to my uncle I never met.

On our way up to the chasm view, we noticed two skiers about to ski down the North Face. Are you kidding?! After the upper portion, they could either continue on left or right. I had my GoPro in-hand and gambled they’d go right so I moved to capture the entire run. Only one of them actually dropped in and ended up going left. Damn! He made it look smooth and easy, but it still blew my mind that anyone would do that, probably because it’s about 10 levels above where my own snowboard skills.

Above this point is where the snow turned truly vertical, before needing other gear. The snow wasn’t quite as good to boot. But just like lead climbing, once you mentally cope with the conditions and gain confidence, making it to the top was just a matter of getting there. Once again, we were not disappointed. We could see the entire Diamond Face of Longs Peak, top to bottom. It is a truly magnificent piece of rock. We looked for climbers but no dice. We did see the rap station right next to an intimidating looking cornice.

Standing at The KeyholeBy this time, we had but one of our original “options” left to achieve. Although we were higher in altitude at the chasm view, we still wanted to summit something. We had two choices: Mt. Lady Washington or Storm Peak, both of which were over 13,000 ft. We were still feeling good but didn’t feel like walking all the way across the Boulder Field again so we decided to follow the ridgeline down and up to summit Mt. Lady Washington.

The views were nothing we weren’t used to at this point, but it was great to get on top of something (doesn’t it always?). We both seemed to have hit a wall at the same point and were more than ready to get off the mountain. It was at this point where I decided that walking was too hard, and thankfully there were ample snow paths on which to glissade (slide down on my ass). I was wearing my Arc’Teryx Alpha SV jacket and Arc’Teryx Beta AR pants all day to withstand the sustained and gusty winds in alpine conditions so I knew they could take the abuse. I can’t even guess how much time that cut off of our descent, but it was a LOT, and it was incredibly fun at the same time. Eventually it became flat again and we had to use our legs for the rest of the way. How disappointing.

All in all, it was a 14 hour day from alarm clock to parking lot, with 8 hours of that spent above treeline in alpine conditions. What a spectacular way to spend a day.

 

Standing on the summit of Mount Lady Washington with the Diamond Face of Longs Peak in the background
Standing on the summit of Mount Lady Washington with the Diamond Face of Longs Peak in the background

 

Goodbye

Photo by Chris
Photo by Chris

And like everything else in the world, all good things must end. Kris and Peter were already gone, Chris took a 5pm flight as Lisa and I were coming off the mountain, and Liz was the only one left. Lisa and I stopped at Larkburger in Boulder to replace some of our 12,000 calories we burnt on Longs Peak, and then met Liz at my place. We looked at some of the pictures taken over the course of the weekend, quickly repacked all of their gear, and said our hasty goodbyes so they could make their flight home.

I know I said I couldn’t adequately express how much this weekend meant to me, and I still don’t think I did. Just because this post is a monster does not mean I accurately portrayed all of my thoughts and feelings. It just means I typed an ass load of details.

I hope that some of my emotions and enlightenment came through, if not in my writing, then hopefully in the pictures and videos. I also hope to see all of these fine individuals back in Colorado ASAP!

And now for the rest of the pictures!