Friday, February 11, 2011

New Blog

Hey everyone, I've decided to move my blog to a more functional site/design. Here's the new address:

Look forward to hearin' your feedback over at the "new location"

Thanks for following.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The strongest Bull Fighter

This photo was taken by Boone Speed

My wife expressed a huge sigh of relief today when I walked into her flower shop and told her that I “sent”. After 11 times of coming home, bummed out, sometimes pissed off, on the 12th time, today, I sang a different tune.
4 years ago I stared at what I thought was going to be the perfect line in the Bull River Canyon. But 4 years ago I had not the skill to develop neither this “line” nor the ability to tame such a beast. Thus, the beast remained asleep, waiting for the right time to be woken.

Something inside me changed this year…something grew stronger, went deeper–it was as if I finally realized what I had to do to be a better/stronger climber. I knew that it would take more commitment, more sacrifice, that it would force me to dig deeper then ever before. There was to be no hesitation to this newly formed dedication. I needed to stand steadfast, taking any punches that were thrown, and if hit, if knocked down…I would need to get back up and start fighting back.

In early December I found myself standing beneath a section of the Bull River Canyon wall. As I stared up at this magnificent looking fragment I saw something different. This time I could see the route. It was as if someone painted a white line from bottom to top, guiding my eyes through the uniqueness of what was to come. With great excitement and a somewhat sleepless night, the very next day I showed up with my paintbrush and paint, ready to create my long awaited masterpiece on a beautiful blank canvas.

Three days straight hanging from a rope, getting soaked by the near waterfall, contemplating my sanity. What the heck was I doing? Why was I doing this again? Bolt by bolt, slowly I made my way through “the line”, hoping that what I was doing was in conjunction with the vision. I didn’t want to mess up anything, but only to create a route that would challenge those who were willing to rise to the occasion.
Over the course of the last couple of months I just couldn’t seem to nail down enough time to spend on my new route. Whether it was due to travel, the river flooding, convincing people to climb/belay, there always seemed to be something hindering any real dedicated/consistent time in pursuit of sending this project. It actually began to eat away at me. I was trying to link sections of the route together but was having no luck with any sort of promise in sending. It wasn’t until about a week ago that I finally decided that enough was enough. If I was going to have a shot at this route, I needed to focus on it. So, I did my best to clear whatever schedule I had set forth and went at this thing full force.

My last solid attempt at this route I had actually surpassed the difficult sections leaving only a few moves to the chains. It was near sent…until my pic broke a small section of a hold putting me into “thin air”. I was speechless for at least 5 minutes. I had fallen just shy of the end. I kept replaying the scenario over and over in my head. Why, why did that happen? And, like anything, after my emotions settled…I realized that my tool placement wasn’t sufficient enough. I was pumped upon reaching this hold and didn’t place my tool with precision. I was sloppy and inattentive to the meticulous move required. However, despite the negativity rapidly running through my head, I knew that I needed to remain positive if I were to have any chance with sending. Yes, I fell, just shy of the chains, but…I also had just crushed the hardest parts of the route…which had never happened before. My head was now back in action.

As I looked over I found myself approaching my recent high point on the route. Remembering what had happened last time, I moved my tool with exactness into the hold I had broken out of previously. Only this time, my pic was locked in. There was no falling with this attempt…only sending. And sending time it was. Carefully working my way up the last dagger of ice I reached the ledge and whilst screaming aloud, I clipped the chains. It was over. The beast was awoken, and then tamed with authority. It took four years for this vision to come to fruition…but like when I stared up at this “perfect line” four years ago, deep down, something told me to just be patient…that it was to only be a matter of time.

Thanks go out to those who helped along the way (and to my patient wife for putting up with me through all of it).

Monday, February 7, 2011

Around the world in 21 days

Packing your bags for 21 days is no easy task. To make matters worse, I typically pack as though I’m leaving for 6 months. And what doesn’t help–you’re only allowed, usually, one bag…maybe two to take on the plane. Thus I face the same dilemma every time I leave on a trip–what to bring and what not to bring. Well, after several attempts, packing and unpacking, I finally managed to get the zippers zipped up on my overly stuffed duffle bag; I was ready to travel around the world (it’s amazing how much stuff you can fit into a “carry on” aka my 35L backpack-ha!).

Traveling around the world, experiencing many different cultures, it’s easily the most superlative adventure I’ve embarked on. Don’t get me wrong, there were certainly aspects to this adventure that challenged my patience and well being, but like with any adventure you simply roll with the punches and keep on truckin’ (even when your bus driver falls asleep at the wheel, whilst on a crazy highway in South Korea, and collides with another moving vehicle–this actually happened!).

As a climber, whether you like it or not, at times you’re faced with challenges that can push your every mental and physical ability. If for fun or in front of a screaming crowd at a competition, it’s in such times that reveal what you’re capable of and perhaps where your limitations are (for the moment).

For the greater part of January I traveled over seas to South Korea, Italy, France, and Switzerland. These destinations were in place for the 2011 World cups of ice/mixed climbing. I had been preparing for several months prior to these pre-destined dates and felt more ready then ever to compete–representing Canada.

With any competition, aside from the actual competing part, you’re typically confronted with the mental game. This game is not for the faint of heart. Your mind has the ability to wander, leading you astray, and you need to have the tactics to centralize your focus on the task at hand. Part of competing, or climbing in general, is being mentally tough. You can’t get these “guns” by pumping iron. As I have learned, this kind of toughness takes time, experience, mileage, and a lot of “humble pie”.

Competing at the world cup of ice/mixed climbing is very different then your typical day outside pulling on tools. Man made structures that look like alien space ships, sculpted hanging barrels of ice, fiberglass/concrete holds, wooden panels to kick into, isolation rooms, and thousands of people cheering. The style is like nothing else, and getting accustomed takes time and patience…and a will to want to be there. Learning the ins and outs of this nature comes only with dedication, focus and persistence.

At the two events that I participated in, my results on paper weren’t as good as I had hoped. However, alternatively my personal climbing performance had huge improvement from my first bout last year. With anything new, you need to take in everything possible to further your experience, so that you can come back more so ready then before. Last year my climbing was too slow, and I was resting too much. In world cup competitions, you have 6 minutes to climb a long way. Essentially you need to get on your horse and ride top speed…without stopping. Well, despite a bit of miss-fortune, I still climbed a lot faster and stronger then ever before. Those are two good things that in the grand scheme of things kept me positive, and yet still motivated me for more. Already I’m thinking about next year’s competitions and what to prepare for in order to further improve my climbing at the world cup level.

Apart from the competition side of things; the travel, seeing new places, skiing in Chamonix, sleeping on floors (South Korean Culture), meeting so many amazing people, climbing at some of the coolest mixed/dry-tooling crags in the world, this “around the world in 21 days” adventure had everything and more packed into it, making it an adventure that will forever be remembered. I’m grateful to all those who supported me, so that I was able to voyage on this journey of a lifetime.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The strongest Bull fighter

The Bull River Canyon sits itself 45 minutes from my house, and over the last four years has been developed into a mixed climbing destination. There are a lot of ice routes nestled in this canyon, but as of lately, this little gem has created a bit of hype.

For four years i stared at a particular area of the bull river. It was different from the rest of the canyon. This huge, polished, overhanging monster with a distinct seem that wove itself aprox. 110ft upwards, it stared back at me, as if we both knew what needed to get done. But for the past few years, I didn't have the confidence in a) putting in the bolts for the "right line", and b) having the ability to climb it. I knew that this line was going to be special, but i also knew that i needed to be patient with it, to wait for the right time.

2 months ago, standing below the bridge, 110 ft down from civilization...i stared at my new route. It took 3 straight days of bolting (thanks to Jesse for helpin' me finish). It was physically i had never experienced. Hangin' upside down, drillin' with one hand, getting absolutely soaked by the raging water fall 20ft was intense. But it was finished. The line i had stared at for years, it finally took it's place in the Bull River Canyon.

My first go on the route, like any route that pushes you, didn't go well. I flailed around like a turkey that just got it's head cut off. But that was ok, i knew that it was going to take time to sort through this thing. So, after about 6 or 7 goes, i figured out the beta for the first steep section (pretty darn overhanging for the starting 40ft) and was stoked on that. But really, out of all the hard parts of the route, that was the more manageable section. The traverse that comes next, that's the hard part of the route. You see, there aren't really any great rests until after all the hard stuff. From the moment you leave the ground, it's in your face for 11 draws worth.

After the first section, you start this heinous traverse that requires about 6-7 figure 4/9 combos...with no feet...on fairly thin ice. This section took a bit to figure out. Throughout the first few attempts at this section...I took some pretty wild falls. One fall in particular was a result of a 50lb block of ice ripping and hitting me in the face–breaking my nose. That sucked. Anyways, after figuring out the movement on the traverse i then sorted the upper section. This last part, about 35ft, consists of pretty easy climbing. Once through the traverse, you get onto a fairly thin dagger, throw pretty high for the next hold...and then work your way up an M8 to the chains. Just before the chains you actually have to pull through another dagger of ice, but manageable regardless.

The route turned out to be a lot harder and longer then i expected. I mean, i bolted it...but you never really know until you get on it. I've been on some hard routes before, but this...this one was really hard. It's technical, powerful, long, requiring a lot of endurance, and a good understanding of mixed climbing movement. It's in your face from the moment you leave the ground...and it doesn't let up for a long time.

Four days ago, after being gone for my "competition season" over in Europe, I was psyched to get back and get back on my route. It had been about a month since i was on it needless to say i was chompin at the bit. Well, to my dismay, staring at the route, i could no longer reach the starting hold. The river, that freezes over, that we stand on, whilst climbing in the bull, had dropped 3ft. The ice shelf had receded so much to the point where the starting hold was too high. Luckily i found another hold lower down that worked out well enough to get going. But that wasn't the end of the changes. The "ice rime" formed by the spray of the waterfall had all melted off near the bottom. This "rime" was good because you could use it as foot holds. You see, because the rock is so polished...foot holds are scarce. Now, instead of the first few moves being "manageable", you needed to perform a few one arm lock offs to make certain moves work. At this point i was a bit concerned as parts of the route, near the beginning required harder movement. Which in turn also meant you needed more power endurance to get through this beast. However, after a couple of go's, working through the new start, i familiarized myself with the first section again, and was able to link it together, putting me where i left off last.

After a day of rest, I returned back to my route–a little more confident as i knew that the first section of the route was pretty dialed. My first attempt of the day I got through the first section...and then to my shock...i kept going. For the first time I was linking into the hardest part of the route. I was able to make 3 moves into the traverse and then fell. This was pretty exciting as that was huge progress. Taking about a 30min break I hoped back on this sucker and gave 'er another go. Again, cruizing the first section, i got into the traverse and began the "long trek" across. Shocked again, i passed my last high point...and quickly fell from being pumped out of my mind.

Making progress on my route was cool and all, but there was still a little part of me that was doubting my ability to actually get through this thing. There's just no letting up on the route and i wasn't sure i had what it took to pull it off.

Passing my last high point, trying to stay focused, trying to ignore from the raging pumped feeling in my arms, scrambling for the next hold...once again i fell off. My last attempt at the route, I thought that was a good go...but this attempt...this attempt brought a bit of hope. My mindset began to change a little. Suddenly...i began to believe. Suddenly I began to see the chains in my mind.

Move after move, on my second attempt of the day, i crushed the first section of the route. Without much hesitation, i cut my feet loose and began the powerful traverse. With the dagger of ice in sight, i was getting closer and closer. In my head...i was screaming, "yeah, you're so close...come on, you can do it". Pat, belaying me from below, was screaming the same things. I couldn't believe it...i was actually making it across the hardest part of the climb. Stabbing my foot out, i had actually made it to the dagger. So pumped, arms screaming...throwing for the next hold above...easy street in sight. It was just about there. I had done it...the hardest section of the route, everything that i doubted...i had just crushed. It was only a few moves of fairly easy climbing to reach the chains. Changing hands, in my rest position, suddenly i was flying through the air. My tool, in one of the bigger "sinker holds" on the route had blown out the hold and i was ripped off the route. Pat lowered me to the "Deck". We were both silent.

Climbing can be really hard sometimes. Not the actual climbing part, but everything that goes along with it. The pressures you put on yourself, the mental battles. It sounds like i'm whining, but can be taxing at times. For the entire evening, and still 'til this moment, i keep thinking about what happened today. It was so close. Yet, it didn't happen. And hopefully, in a couple of days i'll go back and crush this thing. But it's hard. When a route pushes you, when it demands your every physical ability, and when you're that close to pushing a mind bender.

i was reading an article on Chris Sharma turning 30. He made a very valid point about climbing routes...and i thought it fit quite well with my rant:

Don’t you feel like on some climbs, though, that you’re trying to just get the job done? Does that still happen to you?

Oh, yeah. It totally happens. It’s a constant process. It’s like relearning the same things over and over again—kind of like every route. It’s hard to have that pure attitude. You know, you wanna send it, but that’s almost inhibiting you from just being yourself and climbing it like you know you can. When I climbed Realization, I was kind of feeling tired that day, and was like, well, whatever, I’ll give it a burn, just to remember the moves. And then you kind of trick yourself into not really caring about it, and then you’re free to just do it, I guess.

Anyways, that's all i have for now. Resting tomorrow. Then time to take ownership upon "El Matador", the strongest Bull fighter (the name of my route in the Bull River Canyon).

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

It's important to keep a positive perspective...

This time around, I found a sense of comfort. Coming back to Saas Fee, Switzerland allowed for some breathing room. I knew this place, I’d been here before, and my comfort level was far greater this time.

Last year in Saas Fee, Switzerland I competed in my first ever World Cup Ice climbing competition. It was scary to say the least. I didn’t know how/what to prepare whether with the travel side of things or even the climbing side of things. This realm that I put myself in, I was just a baby…that had just been born into a very different world.

Marc Beverly and I, by this time, had traveled around the world together. It’s amazing how much easier travel can be when you’re doing it with someone you know. Cheers to that Marc. After driving for several hours from Chamonix, France we arrived (back) in Saas Fee, Switzerland. It was the last stop on our World Cup tour. Upon my arrival last year I was really unsettled and nervous…but not this year, this year was different. It was a familiar place to which, this time around, I knew how and what to prepare for.

Athletes that travel on the world cup circuit form a very unique bond. Despite the fact that it resembles what one might call, “A traveling circus”, there’s a definite connection. It’s been great, on this tour, being accepted into the family of “carnies”, as it certainly took the edge off in a place that I’m still very new at.
The athlete dinners, the pre-game shows if you will, are always fun to be a part of. You get to see friends, meet other athletes from around the world, discuss “future climbing plans”, and even pick up where you last left off in an ongoing “world cup tour ping pong game” (thanks to my good, Russian, friend–Pavel). It’s a time for all the athletes and organizers to enjoy a relaxed and calm evening “before the storm”. But despite all efforts made for a peaceful, composed, evening…everyone knows what lays ahead–Game Day.

Entering into isolation, along with all the other athletes, there was a sense of relief. Last year isolation was a dark, somewhat heated tent. This year, the organizers built a loft with shelves for gear and beds to chill out on. There was heat, food, water, and lots of RedBull. This definitely took the edge off.
In pretty much every event I’ve competed in, whenever there’s a draw for numbers (when your turn is to compete), it seems as though I always end up going near the bottom. Some people don’t mind this…and really…I guess it’s not all that bad…but when you’re stuck in isolation for 5hrs…it can certainly suck. At the athlete dinner this year I prayed that I would not draw a number that put me near the bottom. Well…to my shock…when I drew my number this year I drew 3. I couldn’t believe it. Prayer answered! Other athletes looked at me as though I were crazy, “you’re happy with going that early?” Heck yeah I was. I couldn’t believe it. No waiting, not panic attacks…out of the gates early. I was really stoked about this.

Being lead from isolation to where the climbing structure is, it feels like a lamb being lead to the slaughterhouse. It pretty much took every bit of mental toughness I had stored up to stay focused on this, what seemed like a 10 mile walk to the climb. As I sat on the seat, just around the corner from the main event, hearing all the cheering, hundreds of people projecting their enthusiasm…I awaited my name to be called into action.

As I lifted both feet off the ground, beginning my climb, the clock started to tick. Placing my tools as efficiently as possible, focusing on moving fast, but being concise with my placements, I pulled through the first few moves. Suddenly, it happened again. My tool popped. I couldn’t believe it. I was only 10ft off the ground. Noooooooo! Quickly I realized that it wasn’t over yet. If you fall before the first quick draw you’re allowed a second chance. The belayer fished my tool out of the ice above and so without a second thought I “got back on the horse”.
Move after move my climbing was flowing. There wasn’t much struggle at all with any of the sequences and I was climbing at a descent clip. Abruptly my name was called as time had run out. Once again it was over. As I was being lowered down I was confused to where I had made it on the route, and why it took me so long to get there, “Really, it took me 6 minutes to make it there?” It didn’t make a lot of sense. I felt as though I was moving faster (this year). I even watched several climbers after me, to whom looked a lot slower, yet still reaching the same point.

It wasn’t until about an hour later that it was brought to my attention that when you fall, and are rewarded a second attempt (like in my situation), the clock doesn’t stop. You see, I thought the clock was re-set back to 6 minutes but it wasn’t. I had actually exhausted two minutes out of my 6 in my first attempt at the route. At that moment I actually became pretty excited. I had just realized that it only took me 4 minutes to climb through ¾’s of the route. If I had my full 6 minutes, I would have had enough time to top out the route. This put a smile on my face.

Last year, at this world cup, I climbed at a very slow pace. It wasn’t good. Because the structure was pretty much the same this year, I was able to compare this year’s climb to last year’s (with speed, distance on route, etc.). Last year I made it just over half way…in 6 minutes. This year, I fell off the route early, re-composed myself and jumped back on my horse and road faster then I ever have before. Not only did I surpass how far I climbed last year, but I did it with (what could have been) 2 minutes to spare.

No, I didn’t go as far as I had wanted/expected to in the standings of this world cup, however still, much has been gained this time around. My goals for this year were to climb faster and stronger. Both of those goals were accomplished. That’s a gain. There is still much for me to learn in this realm, and I still need a lot of mileage in certain areas, but as “Rocky” put it, “it’s not about how hard you can punch…but how hard of a punch you can take…and still get back up.” (paraphrased).
This isn’t over yet. Game on.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Game Day

It's game day. There are no words to describe the feeling, but perhaps could be related to sticking a fork in a plug socket. I can almost feel the electricity streaming through my body.

For some reason, to which i don't understand...but have faith in, I feel ready for whatever happens. Whether i clip the chains at the top of the route, or fall 10ft off the ground, it's ok. It's ok because i know that this moment does not define me, but only strengthens me. I know that i'm not the strongest...but some times...some times when the stars align just right, when God says, "I've got you, don't worry", it doesn't take the strongest "to go chains". It just takes a "once in a blue moon–magical moment". This time i'm going to take a pass at saying uncle. There will be no letting go, no resting, just climbing...and climbing fast.

Last night at the athlete dinner i drew #3. Since my arrival to Saas Fee, i was praying that i wouldn't be put near the bottom again. Waiting in isolation for hours can take a toll on your mental state. It's rough. And not only that, but by the time 60+ competitors have gone before you, the ice on the route is typically trashed, making it harder to climb. Well wouldn't you know it, as i drew out my number, the #3 came out...prayer answered. Fresh ice, no waiting–this is good.

I'm going to pack my bag now and get ready for the Mixed Climbing World Cup in Saas Fee Switzerland.

Game on.