Monday, October 24, 2016

Climbing Training Fall 2016 - Conjugate Periodized Energy Systems

My family and I are moving to Spain on January 1st for 4 months to live and sport-climb. We couldn't be any more excited. My wife and I are currently in the midst of our training programs gearing up for this trip. Our first stop will be in Chulilla (for at least a month), a small village surrounded by enduro limestone pitches situated about 30 mins from the 3rd largest city in Spain, Valencia.

Chulilla, Spain

The double sided horse-shoe shaped canyon holds thousands of pitches and starts a 5 min walk from our apartment.

Pinch me

I have been training for climbing in varying consistency for about the last 8 years, (but more so for the last five years coinciding with my wife's first pregnancy and then the birth of my oldest daughter Ayla Jo). I feel like it took these five years for me to even learn how start to training effectively and efficiently. (Note: training for five years does not mean I got stronger! I began training in that crazy time in a new parent's life where they get real weak, discouraged from climbing, and some quit the sport. Performance climbing is a demanding sport even more so as you get older and as even more so once you have kids. Until about the last year I simply was able to maintain my climbing performance through the thick and thin times of parenthood. Often I was banging my head against the hangboard for weeks at a time only to get thwarted in any type of performance phase by sick kids, limited time, limited sleep, weather, poor programming, not enough time on the rock, etc. At times it was really discouraging! But I kept my head up (and down on the training grindstone) knowing that simply trying to maintain at any level was important and that life would get easier and I would eventually make some gains. Finally, that time is starting to come.).

Sparkly shoe repeater sets.

The biggest game changer for me in my training for climbing was building my own home gym last December (the L-Town Climbing Dojo) complete with Moonboard, Vertical warm-up/ARCing wall, Campus board, Hangboards, Gymnastic Rings, and Rock Rings. The ability to get a work-out in at home, while my girls are napping, after they've gone to sleep, before they get up or I go to work, after work, or simply with them has been paramount for me to continue to progress in climbing with my full time job, family life, and non-profit volunteering. It's dusty, dirty, cramped (eveyone blasts their head into the campus board at some point), floods during big rain and snowmelt, leaks, gets hot, gets cold...  I fucking love it!

Matty Van Biene introducing my girls to the darkside

The Main Event: modified Moonboard with supplementary jugs

ARC Wall on the L with screw on jibs/holds

Do u even Campus bro?

Hangboard zone with pulley eyebolts, gymnastic rings, rock rings (for weighted pull-ups). 

Kid Wall (we build crushers here)

I have experimented with various training programs and protocols, most extensively with the Anderson Brothers Rock Prodigy Training Program and they're book the Rock Climbers Training Manual. While this program is no doubt a very effective periodized program to produce peak performance approx 3-4 times/year I felt like for me it had some short-comings so I began to seek out different programs.

Mark Anderson taking down his hardest redpoint to date: Shadowboxing, 14d. These guys are super inspiring bone-crushing dads with full time jobs.
I recommend reading their book, following their programs and checking out their website.

This fall I am following a Conjugate Periodized Energy Systems training program based off of UK sport-climber Alex Barrows online training PDF "Training for Sport Climbing." Alex is a prodigy of Brit Tom Randall, who I feel is perhaps at the forefront of climbing training when it comes to data analysis, strength/weakness deficiency evaluation, and energy system conjugate periodization. Already I've had great results with this program and I gotta say, I think these Brits are really on to something.

Alex Barrows 

Tom Randall

What I like about it compared to the Anderson's Brother's*:

  • More movement, less hangboarding. I am clearly still working on my 10,000 hours of practice for the sport and putting hard movement aside for 4-8 weeks at a time during the ARCing and Hangboarding phases just doesn't seem efficient or appropriate for an intermediate climber. 
  • I did not like that I would get strong on the hangboard or powerful during my bouldering phases and then put these aside for weeks to months revisiting them only during the next cycle. These power and strength gains are hard-earned and should at least be maintained at all times. Likewise, endurance gains made during the power endurance and performance phases are also not maintained for weeks to months until the next cycle. The conjugate periodized program focus's on one to two climbing facets but at the same time maintains others. 
  • It focus's on strength and power throughout all facets of the program which I agree is the most important trainable skill/trait for rock climbing.
  • The conjugate style or periodization differs from the Anderson Brothers in the ability to maintain a somehwhat high level of performance for longer or more frequent periods of time during the cycle of throughout the year (though perhaps at the costs of a less highly peaked performance period). The higher the peak the greater the valley.
  • Enduro 40m limestone pitches are about as far out of my granite crimping forte as it gets. I know I will need "fitness"  like never before and I think these guy's approach it in a very systematic and trainable manner (not that the Anderson' brothers didn't). The Anderson Brothers main form of high-end endurance training is the linked bouldering circuit which is super effective and very sport specific. This new program includes that exercise but also adds in a few others for variety and undulation in training (which I think is important). 
*It sounds like from the Anderson Brothers most recent podcast (linked below) that they are addressing many of my criticisms listed above. I'm very eager to see the tweaks they make in their programming.

I recommend that everyone interested in this stuff read Alex's full PDF that is linked below. For me to adapt to this new training system I needed to condense the information in the PDF to something I could more easily digest and reference while training. So I basically reduced the information to a more concise form (and added in information on strength training and new protocols for training Aerobic Capacity that I've gleaned from various resources, and also changed up the programming a bit for my levels of volume). I have a number of friends who wanted this information so I figured I'd simply share it in a blog post for the world to see. Sorry for the plagarization Alex and Tom (message me if you want me to take this blog post down)!

Five Climbing Energy Systems
Aerobic Capacity
Anaerobic Capacity
Anaerobic Power
Aerobic Power

Increasing Capacity of a energy system:
            Expanding the size of the tank and the size of the input pipe.

Increasing Power of an energy system:
            Increasing the size of the output pipe.

We need to build a big tank and to be able to keep filling it quickly as we draw from it, but we also need a good output to actually do high levels of work whilst you’re climbing. Without the capacity you’ll quickly drain your tank, but without the power you won’t be able to put out the maximum possible energy and make good use of the capacity you’ve got.


·      Limit Bouldering (Moonboarding, Bouldering Outside)

·      Campusing (Ladders, Bumps, Max Moves, and Double Clutches)

·      Hangboarding (Max Hangs and Repeaters) 

    Core (More on that in a future blogpost)

Aerobic Capacity
This is your capacity to do work with your aerobic energy system. Increasing
your aerobic capacity will increase the level at which you can climb before you start to get pumped, and allow you to both recover quicker at good rests and get more out of marginal rests.

Importance: long stamina pitches, onsighting, recovery between sessions.

·      Low Intensity, High Volume.
·      Bottom end: ARCing.
·      Top end: 1 min on 1 min off
·      Work Period: 9 to 40 min.
·      Rest Period: 0 to 10 min.

***Do not reach terminal pump!

·      ARC: ideally done on routes but can be done on traversing bouldering walls. 20-40 min on the wall. 10 min warm down

·      General Climbing (x-on,x-off): 10-on/10-off x4.

·      Speed Top Roping:  10-on/10-off, no chalking, no shaking, lower off as quick as possible and restart.

·      Route 4x4’s: Lead a route, lower off, pull rope, lead three more times.

·      Foot-on-Campusing: 10mins shaking as needed.
    Minutes on, minutes off: 3 mins on, 1 min off x 3-4. 1min on, 1 min off x 10+.

Anaerobic Capacity
Anaerobic capacity refers to your capacity to do work with your anaerobic lactic energy system, i.e. you can climb harder for longer on the hard sustained sections of your routes.  Training this energy system helps you to be strong on a whole 10-15 move sequence on your route, rather than just the individual moves of the sequence.
Aim is to get hideously powered out, rather then pumped.

Importance: hard sections between ok rests, sting-in-the-tail finishes, power-sapping starting cruxes.

*** Increasing your anaerobic capacity thus increases your ability to produce lactate, meaning that it is essential to do sufficient aerobic capacity work whilst working on this energy system (and aerobic power work afterwards), or your body won’t be able to cope with this new ability and you’ll quickly find yourself very, very pumped. This is a rare example of ‘more is not always better’ – a high anaerobic capacity with the aerobic components underdeveloped will lead to really bad performance on routes.

·      Work Period: 12-15 moves, 30-40s, 8-12 reps.
·      Rest Period: Long (2-4x work period)

Exercises:  ***This energy system responds best to increasing the difficulty or length of the circuit vs reducing the rest times used.

·      Long Boulders (The Standard): 12-15 move boulder problems.
o   30-50s climb time with rest time of 2-4x climb time.
o   Longer rest =  harder circuits. 12-move circuit with rests of 4x climb time more cross over to strength work, 15-move circuit with rest times of 2x climb time more cross over towards An Pow/Aero Pow.
o   8-10 reps, or split into sets of 3-5 reps if you want more volume or to use a harder circuit (3 sets of 4 reps with 10-20min rests between sets).
o   Aim to have an intensity and rest time which leads to failure on around 25% of the reps preformed.

·      Campus Board: Ladder up and down to create circuit of 15-20 moves.
o   Can progressively increase difficulty by adding single harder move or smaller rung each sesh.

·      Handboard Repeaters: various protocols out there, i've been using: 6s on 3s off x6, fail on 6th rep.

Aerobic Power
The endurance end of  ‘power endurance’ training; arm shattering pumped out of your mind. Maximizing the proportion of your aerobic capacity which you can output during a route, i.e. once you’ve developed your ability to produce energy with the aerobic system, now we need to ensure we can exploit that to its full extent, for a time period long enough to get us to the chains.

Importance: Sport routes near your limit.

·      Climbing should be sustained and homogenous vs cruxy and technical.
·      Responds best to reducing rest times except in climbing circuits where it’s more important to vary the circuit.
·      Work Period: 30 moves, 45-120s, blocks of 8 reps/multiple blocks 4 reps.
·      Rest Period: Short (equal to work period)

·      Circuits: 30 moves and should not include any shake outs.
o   Rest time 1-2x climb time.
o   Can vary rep volume for different effects.
§  8 rep circuit failing rep 7 or 8 = high intensity
§  6 sets of 4 reps w/10-20 min rest between sets = high volume.

·      On-the-Minute:  6-8 move boulder problem starting on each minute. Equals 20 seconds climbing and 40 seconds rest.
o   8 reps per set. # of sets depends on the volume you want from the session and the intensity of the problem used.

·      4x4’s: Climb 4 boulder problems in a row with no rest.
o   1-3 min rest between sets. 4 sets.
o   This can also be done with more reps (4 bldrs x8) or can be done as multiple blocks of 4x4 to create a high volume session.

·      Foot-on-Campusing: Try picking a sequence which takes around 1 minute to complete.
o   Rest time of 1-2x the work time initially, aiming to reduce it slightly between sessions.
o   8 rep set, failing on the last couple reps.
o    Perfect way to finish after doing some other aero pow work.

Anaerobic Power
The power end of ‘power endurance’: that instant when power fades where suddenly you can’t pull any more. Maximising the percentage of your anaerobic capacity which you can use over the course of a route or sequence.

Importance: very short, intense routes or long boulder problem traverses.

·      Can be done at the end of a short bouldering sesh before aerobic power or aero cap.
·      You’re aiming to be working at max intensity and getting totally powered out rather than pumped.
·      Work Period: 5-7 moves, 4 reps/set.
·      Rest Period: Very Short, less then or = to work. 10min rests between sets.

·      Boulders with Short Rests: 5-7 move bouder problems x4, with a very short rest time less than or equal to climb time in between bldrs.
o   10 minutes in-between sets, 4 sets minimum.
o   Reduce rest between reps until you can do the 4 boulders with no rests.

·      Circuits : ~25 moves, broken into 3 or 4 sections to act as the boulders in the exercises above, with the end goal then being to redpoint the circuit fully. Or simply redpointing a circuit at your limit in the 20-30 move range.
o   If you fall, pull back on and try to complete the circuit.
o   Gradually add moves to the circuit or increase the difficulty of the moves in order to make the exercises harder

Training Programming

Base Training Period: During this phase the focus is on strength work and the capacities: An Cap and Aero Cap.An Pow or Aero Pow work is for maintenance only. 

High Volume.

Peak Training Period: Focus shifts towards the powers: An Pow and Aero Pow. Strength work is maintained, and modified to have increased emphasis on explosive power and hard, high quality efforts to ensure recruitment is high. Towards the end of this phase, as the trip/goal approaches, it’s worthwhile spending some time combining the energy systems by replicating more closely the
structure of your objectives.           
      Lower volume, higher intensity. Quality efforts.

Taper: Two weeks reaching 50% reduced volume but high/harder intensity. Drop all An Cap, Aero Cap, ARC training. All training should be strength/power, An Power, Aero Power.  Circuits training multiple systems replicating your objectives.

Training Order in a Session: Bouldering-> An Cap/An Power -> Aero Pow -> Aero Cap -> ARC

·      Training/climbing 3-5 days/week: 3 days of hard energy work (An Cap, An Pow, Aero Pow).

·      When focusing on An Cap: 2 sessions a week are enough and must be matched with enough corresponding Aero Cap.

·      Aerobic Power: 2 days a week is enough.

4 Periods

Base 1
·      Focus: Strength, Anerobic Capacity
·      Moderate: Aerobic Capacity
·      Maintain: Aeroboic Power, Anaerobic Power

·      Weekly Training Goals:
·      4x strength
·      2x An Cap
·      0.5x Aero Pow/An Pow
·      Aero Cap/ARC end of some sessions

Base 2
·      Focus: Strength, Anerobic Capacity, Aerobic Capacity.
·      Maintain: Aerobic Power, Anaerbic Power.

·      Weekly Training Goals:
·      4x strength
·      2x An Cap
·      2x Aero Cap
·      0.5x Aero Pow/An Pow

·      Focus: Strength, Aerobic Power
·      Moderate: Anaerobic Capacity, Anaerobic Power, Aerobic Capacity.
·      Maintain: Aerobic Capcity/ARC
·      3x strength
·      1x An Cap
·      1.5 x Aero Pow
·      0.5x An Pow
·      Aero Cap/ARC low volume end of sessions.

Peak 2
·      Focus: Strength, Aerobic Power
·      Moderate: Anaerobic Power
Maintain: Aerobic Capacity/ARC
·      3x strength, explosive bouldering and campusing
·      2x Aero Pow
·      1x An Pow
·      Aero Cap dropped or done very little, ARC only as warm-down

*Not mentioned above is "prehab" supplementary work to balance out muscles and prevent injuries, I think this subject and details of the core training I do would make a good blog post on it's own right and I may get to this in the future. 


And in case any of yourare too lazy to motivate to train, i'm gonna let CT get on ya:

Thursday, October 20, 2016

First Ascent: King Kong - The Joe Puryear Memorial Route - 5.11d, 900ft

On September 9th, the last day of my 37th year, I was able to make the first free ascent of a new direct direct finish to Gorillas in the Mist on the West Face Wall of Mt Stuart with partner Jon Gleason. While my ascent merely added two pitches onto the Gorillas Direct route that I FA'd in 2010 with Mark Westman and Jens Holsten, this ascent stands as one of the most meaningful in my 15 years of rock and mountain climbing.

The story of King Kong begins back on a stormy July morning in 2009. Jens Holsten, Blake Herrington, and I found ourselves under a splitter hand crack at the base of the unclimbed, imposing, and fabled West Face Wall of Mt. Stuart, which stood in swirling clouds and strengthening winds. Jens started us off for the day scaling the incredible index quality splitter on P1 with his trademark precision and focus.  Pitch 3 proved to be the key passage, which had repelled all previous attempts: I can still see the shock in Blake's eyes when Jens ripped off a large block mid-pitch, barely hung on, and started dry heaving. I assured Blake that all was well as moss and rocks rained over our heads and Jens bellowed deep guttural grunts to push through the final traversing fist crack before the belay. It was a proud and heroic effort. I took the lead from there and moved up into a moderate V-slot and a perfect short corner that intersected the major ledge system splitting the wall.

The storm continued to build around us and the salt and pepper granite glistened with moisture. I tried to climb up a steep corner system but my efforts were quickly halted as I slid back down the now soaking-wet and dirty rock. We regrouped at the belay  and then traversed the ledge right in search of moderate cracks. High above, the clouds parted just enough for me to see a stunning overhanging skyscraper of rock capping the top of the wall and split with a steep crack. Images of King Kong scaling the Empire State Building flashed through my head. A full rope length traverse led to more moderate cracks out right and Blake pushed on, up wet stone, through three easy, but stunning corner cracks to where we finally topped the steep West Face Wall.

We battled up the West Ridge through rime-covered rock, wind, snow, and rain. Blake and I simul-climbed and Jens free-soloed. We began to unravel high on the angry mountain, losing Jens in the mist and fog for nearly two hours, but finally re-grouped as day turned to night and the temperature plummeted below freezing. It was clearly too unsafe to continue into the night, so we settled down on a tiny wind-swept perch, for what is still, to this day, the coldest un-planned bivy any of us has ever endured. Despite our predicament, the psych was high. We had pushed up a steep alpine wall ground-up and onsight in bad conditions.

Looking back, it was an audacious effort, and remains a highlight into what I consider the golden age of new/re-discovered hard free-climbs in the Stuart Range. It was a special time, full of stoke, brotherhood, adventure, and never-ending possibility. Overnight the storm settled, the clouds parted, and the wind died. We continued on to the summit at dawn, topped out to the soothing warmth of the sun, and Gorillas in the Mist was born.

Jens and I scoping the wall back in '09
Splitter cracks up perfect stone on P1

Jens starting up P2

Looking down the bottomless corners on P2

Jens starting up the Monkey Traverse on P3

Sol preparing to commit to the overhanging section of the Monkey Traverse

Blake moving into the fist crack finish on P3

Sol in the V-slot of P4 while Blake belays

Blake finishing up the picturesque corner high on P4

Jens still psyched, socked-in, midway up the wall

Blake pushing on up more moderate ground on P7

Jens high on the stormy West Face Wall, P8

Rime covered rock on the West Ridge

"SHIVERER BIVERING" The FA of Gorillas in the Mist from Cedar Wright on Vimeo.

I was thrilled to be on the summit, but knew that back at home the alarms were being sounded. It was my two-year wedding anniversary and my wife Ginnie Jo had woke up to an empty bed, her husband overdue putting up a new route on Mt. Stuart. 

We pushed along down past the false summit, front-pointed down the sherpa glacier to the valley floor and briefly rejoiced with ice cold creek-stashed beers before jumping in the rig to rush home.  Meanwhile, Ginnie had walked down the block to the neighbor's house and roused Joe Puryear from bed. Joe immediately jumped into action and he and Max Hasson, who had some knowledge of the wall, packed up a kit and headed out for a rescue. 

 "Dudes, your alright!" Joe hollered from the car window. "Yeah man, we put up a new route but got beat down by a storm high on the mountain," I replied. "Well, we're your rescue party and you've got one worried wife back at home," Joe said with a smirk. A unanimous, "Thank you guys so much!" echoed from our trio. Joe and Max turned around and we all headed back to Leavenworth to hug the wifey and celebrate. On the drive back we discussed that we couldn't have imagined a more competent rescue team and were so deeply thankful those guys were ready to risk their necks for us. 

We all celebrated sitting on the grass with beers and sandwiches in the backyard of Ginnie and I's newly purchased fixer-uper in Leavenworth. We recounted the details of our new climb and the bivy to Joe, Max, Ginnie, and Joe's wife Michelle. I got extra squeezes from the wifey on that anniversary day and I still can't thank Joe and Max enough for their selflessness in coming to our aid.

On October 27, 2010 Joe died when a cornice collapsed underneath him attempting a new route on Labuche Kang in Tibet with Dave Gottlieb. It was a tragic loss for all those that knew Joe, and all that were inspired by his character and accomplishments. It hit my wife Ginnie Jo very hard. I can clearly remember sitting her down and telling her the news, watching her explode with grief, the wailing, the tears. Joe and Michelle had been a  major part of her life when she moved to Leavenworth alone in 2007 to student teach (I remained in Bellingham finishing up a business degree). Friendless, penniless, and over-worked, Joe and Michelle invited her over for dinner often, becoming instant friends, and making that challenging first winter in a new town away from her new husband as warm and homey as can be. 

Joe Puryear

Over the winter of 2010-11 I made the decision to complete the direct finish to Gorillas in the Mist in honor of Joe. Joe had told me about the huge part Mt Stuart had played in his early climbing career having been visible from his family's vineyard in the Yakima Valley. He had cut his teeth on numerous routes up the iconic mountain, most notably an ascent of the celebrated Girth Pillar in 1998 and a solo traverse of the Stuart Range in 2002. 

Mark Westman high on the Girth Pillar. Photo: Joe Puryear

I contacted Joe's longtime climbing partner Mark Westman over that spring to discuss my idea and invite him to join me. Mark thought it was a proper tribute to Joe and was eager to join up for the ascent. Fittingly, he would be in town for Joe's wake in August so we made plans to go for the direct that next day. Joe's wake involved that rollercoaster of emotions that one expects from such an affair. Sadness, anger, inspiration, humility, despair. Mark and I briefly slept sometime past midnight on the fertile grounds of Joe's family home, rousing just a couple of hours later to head north. We connected with Jens at the trailhead, packed the kit, and began our hike in.

Mark pushing through gale force winds to a socked-in West Face Wall

It was business as usual as we pushed up the original 4-pitches of the route and Mark was impressed by both the climbing and the positions.
Mark and Jens nearing the midway ledge
From the midway ledge of the wall, I moved left rather than right, over to the base of a striking R-facing corner crack. I battled my way up hideously dirty conditions off the ground with laughable pro, eventually moving up into a beautiful, though filthy, corner with a cool crack/seam out left for opposition. I got to work mining out placements and jams on the go, while clouds of dirt and lichen cascaded down. It was some classic blue-collar cascades ground up exploration, something Jens and I had fine-tuned over the years. Mark, on the other hand, couldn't quite believe that I just kept on pushing forward despite the deplorable conditions.  I collapsed in a pile at a spacious belay ledge on top of the crack, my face covered in dirt, my teary eyes bloodshot and scratched from debris.

Sol pushing up new ground on P5, 10b.
Jens and Mark followed and, before long, I began up P6, a deceptively challenging short corner. After taking a fall, I pulled the rope and managed to stem and palm my way up the dirt and moss choked corner to a slab where I moved from right to left with little to no protection and onward to a rampy belay ledge.

Where had the day gone? You could see the incredible headwall crack looming above, but getting there looked tricky. Short on time and light, we decided to move left on more moderate cracks to a major corner system that bordered the headwall pillar. Mark took the lead and fired off a super fun traversing finger crack pitch that went at about 10a. Jens and I later remarked that watching Mark's confidence build as he moved his way up the wall (he was coming off the couch from his annual stint as a climbing ranger on Denali), and witnessing him step up to take the lead and bone-crush this and the next couple of pitch's was clearly the climb's highlight for us.  Bad ass Mark! We topped out at sunset with fingers of clouds ripping past us. It was a great day out in the hills and a therapeutic way for Mark and I to process the previous day's headiness. And while I was proud of our newer, straighter line, the memorial climb for Joe was still not completed.

The headwall splitter taunts from the rampy belay atop P6.

And thus began a transitional time in my life as I moved into mid-adulthood. I completed nursing school that next June and began my new career as an acute care RN. My first daughter, Ayla Jo, was born one month later in July. Times had changed, the stoke was as present as ever, but my time in the mountains drastically diminished and my responsibilities exponentially increased. Nonetheless, I kept trying to put up that goddamn direct direct!

Jens and I made an effort late in 2012, foolishly approaching via Stuart Lake and a long gully/couloir only to end up rappelling at that rampy belay near the base of the headwall, having wasted the day on our crappy approach choice. In 2014, I returned with Rafe Maxwell. I did some scrubbing of P5, and P6, and aided about 20ft off that rampy belay up a dirty, spicy seam but eventually I bailed as it faded away into knifeblade territory. I tried again to make it over to the headwall a pitch higher via a dirty slab but reversed back amidst filthy, loose rock (though we did push on to make the 2nd ascent of Gorillas Direct). A few months later my second daughter, Ariana, was born and my time in the hills diminished yet further.

Sol scrubbing P6 in August of 2014

When Blake Herrington's incredible new tome for the region came out this past winter, Cascades Rock, I started to get a sense of urgency to rap this project up. In his topo for the wall he labeled the "unclimbed splitter" on the headwall. The previous summer in 2015, the Gorillas Direct saw a third ascent by Seattleites Dave Burdick and Zac West and rumors floated back to me that they too had failed trying to access the headwall splitter.

The headwall splitter

Over the years, I've always been amazed that despite plenty of strong climbers at Little Si, Index, out in the boulder-fields, and coming out of Spokane, Seattle, Portland, Squamish, and Vancouver B.C., the high-end alpine new routing and repeating (i.e. technically hard) in the state gets accomplished by a relatively tight knit circle of friends (and even the less technically hard, though just as difficult, adventure climbing in the North Cascades likewise gets done by a small group of hardmen: Eric Wherly, Rolf Larsen, Wayne Wallace, Mike Layton, et al). With that being said, the tides may be beginning to change, the young guns are out there and they're strong, psyched, and they've got way more free-time than me. It was time to pick my plum. When my wife announced she was heading to Michigan to visit the Grandparents in late August for 10 days this year it was GAME. FUCKING. ON!

Mt Stuart. Photo: MAHTING Productions

Between exhausting 13 hour nursing shifts, I took three trips up to the West Face Wall in late August and early September. First, with Pacific Northwest legend Cole Allen, who came through in the 11th hour when my other partner bailed. Cole came off the couch to support me, having not really climbed in almost a year since he split open his pelvis when a large wall came down on him in a bad construction job accident. Cole's no rookie when it comes to Mt. Stuart, having made the 2nd winter ascent of the Complete North Ridge with Jens back in 2008 and I was super psyched to get out there with brother Cole. I knew he would throw everything he had at supporting the mission. While I've done lots of camping, cragging, and kicking it with Uncle Cole over the years (my girls nickname for him), I was fully stoker to spend some time showing him this special wall and to bromance the alpine stone together.

The psych is high!
We awoke from our bivy late in the morning, packed up kit, and headed up the West Ridge to the top of the West Face Wall with plans to rap in and prep the headwall and the connector pitch. In my ten years of new routing and projecting in the Cascades, this was my first time going top down. While traditional ground-up ascents are still my preferred style, my string of failed attempts to reach the headwall dictated a change of tactics.

I fixed the rope and teetered over the edge amid a myriad of loose rocks and choss. Carefully, I wove my way down to the top of the headwall using strategic directionals to dodge the hang-fire. While the plan was to make an initial scrub run down the headwall, fix the line, and then tackle the connector pitch while Cole continued to buff out the headwall, I looked down to see the end of our 60m line still at least 30 ft short of making it even to the base of the headwall splitter. I had no idea the headwall was so long.  So I got to work solo while Cole chilled on top taking photos, instagraming, facebooking, and texting with 3G coverage  from his smartphone (what a weird world we live in nowadays). After five exhausting hours, I had merely been able to make the pitch climbable, let alone buff it out. But I had to ride that fine line of not getting too tired this first day, while still being able to make if freeable. I had encountered hideous conditions, which required me to scrub every single inch of usable rock, and chip and beat out large moss hummocks and chock stones.

Get to work son.

I took a single mini-trax burn up the top 2/3 of the headwall I had cleaned and found the climbing pretty damn hard! Steep hands and fist gave way to powerful laybacking, grovelly offwidthing, and a couple thank-god sinker finger-jams and jug ledges here and there. It was meaty, steep, and sustained. I probably took 15 or so times on that first burn to work out the moves, while ticking and scrubbing key holds. There was a clear sting-in-the-tail crux pulling over the top of the headwall and I did my best to figure it out, ticking a key hold from above once I had pulled over.

I thanked Cole for his great patience and we rallied back to camp, arriving at dusk to building clouds and cold blustery winds. The temps continued to drop through the night and the winds intensified, making sleep challenging. Our early alarm was repeatedly ignored amid the now arctic conditions and when we finally awoke, we were pretty damn worked from the previous day's labor and a fitful night of tossing and turning.

Fatigue, blurry eyes, and pain. 

I rope-gunned the route wearing my puffy nearly the entire time. We made good time and it was inspiring to see Cole rise to the occasion, pushing hard through steep and intimidating stone.

The King of the Monkeys, Cole Allen, crushing the "Monkey Traverse."

He's single ladies...

I toted up scrub brushes, pins, slider nuts, and extra brassies, intent on making that connector seam go. I pushed away fear as I top-stepped grovelly #3 HB placements, 000 C3's, and #0 slider nuts. However, tantalizingly close to reaching the headwall, the seam completely shut down and progress stopped. A spicy pendulum could have possibly got me over but I was here to freeclimb, and this line just wasn't coming together. With a deep sigh, I bailed off a tiny brass nut and backcleaned my gear on the way down.  Near the belay, I penji'd right to a take a looksey at a hidden corner system and BAM! There it was. A beautiful corner with an initial roof bulge moved into a cool stem-box and finished directly at the base of the headwall. While the features looked more aesthetic, the condition of the stone was deplorable. Much work would have to be done before I would even be able to attempt to climb. It was getting late so I headed back to the belay and pushed on up the Gorillas Direct finish...again.

What's not to love about topping out a 900 ft wall of salt and pepper Stuart Range granite with your good homie after rope-gunning with no falls? So I enjoyed myself for about 3 minutes and then refocused mentally on my next mission. I had a very tight schedule of work ahead and would need to maximize caloric intake and rest, yet also get in a little training to top off the strength I was losing while focused on this project.

Ingalls Lake from high on the wall. Photo: MAHTING Productions

Six days later, I headed back in the range with back-in-the-day climbing partner Tyree Johnson and lifelong best-friend Mahting Putelis. I hadn't climbed with these jokers in years and we laughed that we were getting the band back together for a reunion tour. Tyree and I had cut our teeth on lots of hard alpine and lowland rock early on, which climaxed with ascents of the Nose and the Salathe on El Capitan. Ty was just getting back into climbing after a chronic shoulder injury that had taken him out of  the game. Mahting and I had been friends since 5th grade, growing up together in the concrete jungle of Kalamazoo, Michigan. We had both heeded to the call of the mountains after high school and headed west. Our shining moment in the hills together came in 2006 when we put up our first first-ascent, the now celebrated East Face of the Main Gunsight Peak deep in the North Cascades. Mahting is a professional photographer/videographer based out of Denver and was game to capture the ascent.

Cilogear all day, every day. Photo: MAHTING Productions

That first day was a true ass-kicker. We pushed up to the lake with beastly loads, made camp, packed kit, and again headed to the top of the wall with a pile of rigging, cleaning, and camera gear. I trundled the shit out of the top of the wall knowing that with the three of us up there and Mahting shooting photos and videos we would have to stack the odds in our favor as we were in for some shenanigans.

Trundle-mania. Photo: MAHTING Productions

Get 'er done. Photo: MAHTING Productions

I did a cursory scrubbing as I rapped down the headwall, putting in directionals as I went before fixing a second line down the connector pitch. It took about 4 hours for me to transform the connector pitch into a reasonable free passage but it came together nicely. Afternoon turned to evening and before we knew it dusk was upon us. I had hoped to mini-trax both pitches, but with time running short I gave just a single burn on the connector pitch, again taking multiple times (as I had on the headwall) to figure out the moves and suss the pro.

Ty was getting a bit tense as darkness descended on us and I did my best to assure him that it was all good, the plan being to rap to the base, stashing water at belays on the way down and fixing a line on the first pitch for Mahting to shoot from in the AM. My years of late nights on the East Face of Liberty Bell had built up my confidence in high angle nighttime adventures, so I simply clocked in for nightshift and navigated our way down. Nonetheless it felt damn good to hit terra firma a few hours later after negotiating a complex descent with not quite enough tat or bail gear. We stashed gear at the base and hightailed it back to camp arriving around 11PM, 21 hours after I had awoken in L-town that previous morning.

I did my best to hydrate, fuel-up, and recover, even refraining form the whiskey, and soaking my heavy arms in the lake. Morning came all too soon and we all awoke beat the fuck down.

Rise and shine bitches. Photo: MAHTING Productions
I continued doing what I could to recover, eating lots of food, stretching, remaining positive and trying to psych up my weary companions. The team of three component and photography logistics slowed our departure from camp, but we eventually got sorted out and headed up. It was one of those approaches where you're tired from the first step. Unfortunately our progress towards the route came to a halt when Ty harpooned his scalp on a sharp stick, causing a decently large avulsed laceration, and necessitating a "pleasant jog" back to camp for me to grab steri-strips. Ty held pressure while I was gone and Martins and I doctored him up when I returned.

Good thing Ty and I are RN's and Mahtings got his WFR. Photo: MAHTING Productions
Morale was at an all time low as it was nearing noon and Ty (reasonably) wanted to bail, but I wasn't hearing any of it. It was game on and nothing was gonna stop me.
Photo: MAHTING Productions

I hiked the first pitch while Martins filmed and took my first glance at the time once at the belay (I just hadn't even wanted to know). It was 1:30 PM. Ty followed and again brought up bailing but I told him it was no biggie, don't worry, I knew the wall well, and I took off like a rocket.  The next few pitches flew by and with each passing pitch Ty's stoke increased. Near the midway pitch he looked over at me and said, "dude this is so rad, THANK YOU!" I had learned a lot since Ty and I had last climbed together. Since he had got back in the game, he had been the stronger partner in his outings, so for him it was a real treat to take a back seat and get rope-gunned up an awesome route. I was zoned in, firing quickly through the cruxes, and running it out to save time.

Before long we were at the base of the connector pitch. In my single mini-trax burn, I had learned that my original start moving L to R was hard and sketchy and that I would have to attack the initial bulge head on. It was filthy, but I mined out some placements and quickly backed up my slightly sketchy rock-pounded pin anchor. I pushed higher into the bulge and was forced into a layback, lichen rained down and my foot holds crumbled but I pushed on, deadpointing to sequential fingerlocks over the bulge. Now in a position to deck onto Ty and the belay ledge, I gave out a few grunts and fought to mantle the bulge. The pitch moved on into a aesthetic stem box with specific gear and moves, climaxing with runout overhanging climbing on jugs.

I pulled Ty up and rested, trying my best to ignore the pain and fatigue in my sore muscles and the overhanging 54m headwall looming above. The pitch begins through easy slabby steps before moving into solid vertical tombstone flakes. I had chosen the L crack above the tombstones, as it appeared easier to climb and cleaner then the direct R variation. I took one final rest and launched off. Solid (though gritty) hand and finger jams led way to a slightly powerful sequence regaining the main R crack where I did my best to reset and rest in a slightly awkward undercling spike at the base of the business. I pushed on, up steep pinches and wild laybacking, running it out as the climbing and pro dictated.

Man the battle stations, moving into the business. Photo: MAHTING Productions

The climbing remained sustained through steep wide sections punctuated with meaty hand and fist jams.

Photo: MAHTING Productions
I did my best to stay calm and positive as the pump settled in and I began overheating. Despite a few cams and nuts in place from the day before, I had to run it out considerably in this section, risking big falls on grainy cracks.

Photo: MAHTING Productions

Photo: MAHTING Productions

I desperatly fought my way into a sequential section of wild chockstones, cursing and screaming. Somehow I hung on as I deadpointed to a thank-god finger-jam. Despite the good hold, I was completely redlining. Above was a large ledge and perhaps the first respite in about 30m of overhanging climbing. I sized it up and threw everything I had at hitting it.

Photo: MAHTING Productions

Photo: MAHTING Productions

Photo: MAHTING Productions
I did my best to recover while holding onto the big ledge, but my returns were clearly diminishing. I also tried to get a piece in, as I was very runout at that point, but nothing would fit. Eventually, I moved up onto a big ledge and into a cramped awkward position to sink a thank-god blue TCU. The lip of the headwall was just above me and a final crux sequence was all that lay between me and success. The fatigue of the last few weeks and days was set in deep and I just couldn't get much back but I pushed on, matched an edge below the lip, rocked my feet up and threw to my tick mark. My hand barely grasped it. My arms chicken winged, I tried to rock up and over, but just couldn't move up. I went to drop down to the matching edge and reset then BAM, I was off, and my dreams of a redpoint were crushed at the end of a 30ft whipper into space. I hung at the end of the rope dejected, hyperventilating for at least 10 mins. I had thrown everything I had at the pitch and it just wasn't enough.

When I did complete the move and rock over the headwall, I came to the crushing realization that the tick mark I had placed from above on my only previous go on the pitch was actually 3 inches too high. The good incut hold lay just below and unmarked.

I tried not to be too bummed, as it had been one of the best performances of my life considering the deep fatigue and conditions on the pitch. Despite being runout and in full on battle-mode, I had not once given into fear or considered backing down. It was a bitter pill to swallow that a misplaced tick-mark was perhaps the only thing that transformed what would have been one of the best days of alpine rock climbing into a project burn. But as I'm known to say, "if it were easy it'd be called mountain-biking."

Ty pushing hard on the headwall, nice work bro! Photo: MAHTING Productions

The First Ascent of King Kong. Photo: MAHTING Productions
We had pulled off the first ascent but I was far from settled, or psyched. I grudgingly applauded myself for my performance, but GODDAMN IT, I would have to return yet again.

Ty, Mahting, and myself on top. Photo: MAHTING Productions
My family returned from Michigan that night. I rested, trained a bit, and lined up my next partner.  I was pretty damn edgy that next week, totally preoccupied with the project. I tried my best not to be an asshole, but did spend much of my free-time sitting on the couch, staring at the wall, lamenting on what it would take to send. Adding to my edginess and anxiety was the fact that the first autumn storm had hit the Cascades with plummeting temps, likely meaning snow and ice on top of the wall. The window for this project was closing and no doubt it would be a long torturous winter if I entered it with no send.

On September 9th, I returned with fun-guy Jon Gleason. I rope-gunned the route and TOOK IT DOWN! It was a great day of alpine rock-climbing with no falls. Big-ups to Jon for supporting my mission and climbing the headwall with our puffies, approach shoes, and water bottles hanging off him.

My albatross had been slayed and the line of strength on the wall was complete. It was a contemplative topout and descent, thinking about all of my various adventures over the years on the West Face Wall with my good friends, and also my original intentions to memoralize Joe on this sacred mountain. I think he would be proud of my vision, efforts, and determination. Around the corner lies his friend Lara Kellogg's memorial route. And just across the way from that, Laura's husband and Joe's friend Chad's. Hopefully in the future, aspiring young alpinists will search out Joe when they investigate this climb and be inspired by his blog/trip reports, voluminous CV, and his character.

A shot to you brother Joe.
I hope that folks will find inspiration in this blog post and the adventures it details, there's a lot of wild times to be had out in the fertile peaks of the Pacific Northwest. Dream big, don't give up, and remember, "ain't nobody gonna live the dream for ya."

Mahting Productions - King Kong First Ascent - Teaser from Mahting Putelis on Vimeo.


  • It was challenging for me to assign a grade to this climb as it is a bit of an anomaly for the Stuart Range and the North Cascades; more aligned with the enduro pitches of the Bugaboos, Squamish, or Yosemite.  The best local climbs I can compare it to are the long corner pitch on the West Face of Colchuck Balanced Rock, the stem box P1 of Der Sportsmen, or the headwall link-up on Dragons of Eden. With that being said, save for the first comparison, it does not hold a comparable technical crux and is simply more sustained.. I'd been in a bit of a weird bubble of Moonboarding/Training and alpine rock climbing, with lots of rest in-between, over the last few months and couldn't quite gauge where I was at with my climbing when I sent. This is the time of year where I experience a natural annual low in my strength and power and a peak in my technical trad skills. With that being said I've climbed more lowland and alpine 5.12 this past year then ever.. I think the 11d grade is good for now, it will likely clean up to be 11c but I don't think it's gonna get any easier (though you never know, these climbs tend to get quite a bit easier with traffic as they clean up), or I could be sandbagging it.. I just couldn't warrant a 12a grade without some repeats as it just isn't that technically hard. Future suitors will be challenged by the sustained nature of the route and the committing sections above their gear. On my redpoint burn I was able to climb it with a double rack save for two small nuts that were and remain fixed. I knew where to place gear, what to save for when, and I was punching 1 to 1.5 bodylengths in between placement stances. These logistics may prove challenging on the onsight, but I have no doubt that people will bone-crush it onsight next season. I left a couple of old beat-up aliens fixed at the top of the climb for the climber who tops the headwall with no gear left. This isn't the best stance and a more comfortable one lies on a big ledge just a few feet above. But, it allows the leader to enjoy watching their second struggle up the headwall. 
  • We did not go to the summit! In many alpinists book (including mine) this first ascent is not complete. It's definitely light-duty! Since our shiver-bivy on the first ascent I believe Gorillas in the Mist has been completed to the summit only twice. Once by Jens Holsten and Shaun Johnson to and from a bivy on the northside of the mountain and again by Alex Ford and the late Laurel Fan with a planned bivy atop the West Face Wall. I will return during the long warm days of July next season and take it to summit car-to-car, perhaps as a reunion tour with Blake and Jens. Most parties will descend easily from the West Ridge as we did. 
  • This wall has seen previous attempts including some type of action on the headwall. There was a two-nut bail anchor on the bottom third of the headwall splitter and a two-bolt button-head belay at the base of the headwall, similar to other bolts found on the bottom 1/3 of the wall. I assume that the headwall belay was put in by Mark Makela and Geoff Sherer in 1993 who attempted the climb with full-on wall gear, fixing ropes. They made it up what would be most of the pitches of the West Face Wall (though I do not know what variations/pitches they climbed) using a mix of aid and free, but never completed the last few on wall. I am interested to know the exact details of their attempts and will update this post if I'm able to get in contact with them. 
  • With the three variations that have been climbed on Gorillas, I think this wall will appeal to a large range of Cascades Alpinists. I think it's safe to say that the first pitch has officially been downgraded to 10d and the "Monkey Traverse" on P3 has cleaned up so much since the original ascent that it's barely tipping 10a. The 10- alpinist who is game to push themselves on an adventure will find it on the original Gorillas in the Mist with perhaps a move of french free/aid. The 10+ alpinist will have a blast taking down the Direct (all parties that have climbed this have messaged me with accolades of stoke, thanks guys, psyched for ya!). King Kong will be a well trodden classic in future years and a worthy challenge to a solid 5.11 Cascades Alpinist. Somewhere in difficulty around the West Face of CBR and a good stepping stone before stepping up to more challenging climbs like Der Sportsmen, Dragons of Eden, and Let it Burn. It has a wild climax and a truly epic finish pulling over the headwall as the sun sets, I'm excited to hear the stories.
  • HUGE THANKS to the many friends who have spent time with me up there over the years and supported my missions: Jens Holsten, Blake Herrington, Mark Westman, Rafe Maxwell, Cole Allen, Tyree Johnson, Mahting Putelis, and Jon Gleason. You guys rock and I couldn't done it without you!! Mahting hiked in there with a beast of a load, spent many hours editing the images and creating the teaser video, and didn't get to climb a single pitch, thanks homie!! We are eager to make a more full length video of this ascent in the future so be on the look out for that. Also to Cedar Wright who made the Shiverer-Bivering movie years back.  Joey Maypes and Beat Brigade Productions for the beats in the teaser video. To my wife Ginnie Jo, for giving me the freetime and support to get'er done, love you babe! Lastly, to my girls, Ayla Jo and Ariana for providing the inspiration to live life to it's fullest and dealing with  a tense daddy for the week before he sent.
  • Another HUGE THANKS to the companies and shops that have given my support over the years: Mountain Equipment, Bridgedale Socks, Outdoor Research, CiloGear, Human Powered, Frictions Labs, Leavenworth Mountain Sports, and Pro Mountain Sports. I've never had an official sponsorship with any of these guys but the help in gear, clothing, and discounts I've received has been paramount in my success. Thanks so much!! Also, to the American Alpine Club for a generous Live Your Dream Grant back in 2015 (I still owe you guys some media on that one... the proj just isn't finished yet... hang tight, I will come through).