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Yosemite Valley, Rifle, Indian Creek, Bishop, Joshua Tree, Hueco Tanks, Eldorado Canyon. Some of the country’s most renown and sought after climbing destinations. Our eyes were set on all of them and each of the areas in between – connecting the pieces of the puzzle – and bringing our roadtrip to life. These were them? And that was it. Or was it? Red Rock Canyon… what a massive overlook! There was no doubt the climbing God’s were frowning upon us. We had to set things straight. And we planned to do just that; to tear into an experience in the Canyon we could never forget.
After celebrating Casey’s birthday on the electric strip of Las Vegas for 2 days, we set out. Our bones and bruises were rested up from Zion and it was time to escape the neon indulgence for wilderness and high country. We were still a solid two weeks out from Christmas, so there was plenty of time to get a good ‘feel’ of what the Canyon was all about. And that we did! Arriving late our first morning, our sights fell onto a route named ‘Frogland’ – an old 5.8 classic with a fairly easy approach. A great introduction to the area. When you hear the phrase, ‘short approach’ at your local sport crag, you can expect fifty paces. When you hear ‘short approach’ in the Bugaboos, expect several miles. We learned ‘short approach’ is also relative to Red Rock Canyon, and can be quite the hike. Nevertheless we climbed fast, broke 6 pitches into 2, passed 3 parties and finished less than an hour after leaving the ground. Not to mention, covering 700 feet of vertical terrain. A fantastic, moderate outing. But how so fast?
I have a real love for the style of ‘speed climbing’ and especially adding the art of ‘simul-climbing’ to the game. Speed climbing came easy for me, mainly because of my friend Jason’s effort to instruct me properly. A mentor in my early climbing days and continual teacher and close friend of mine, Jason [and I] were and are weekend warriors. Since they’re only 52 weekends in a year, minus family and friend obligations, plus a few days during the holidays – it’s crucial to take advantage of these ‘golden’ opportunities on the rock. Every minute is precious when you’re doing what you love and not a second can be wasted. That means shoes must be tied when the leader says “On Belay”. Gear should be organized, and ropes kept untangled. Stalling at cruxes should be limited to a five second engagement, analyzing your next moves until a rest. And this is how 18 pitches instead of 13 result from a weekend outing!
In turn, I did my best to pass this concept on to Casey and several other climbing friends of mine, in hopes of savoring my passion only a while longer. See, climbing is climbing, but being able to climb more, well, that just makes it all the more wonderful. An excellent illustration: an 8 hour day climbing is an 8 hour day climbing. But an 8 hour day climbing 2000 feet instead of 500 feet – that’s just music to my ears. And the conductor of that symphony is… you got it! The tricks and trades of speed climbing. All in all speed climbing is best defined as any effort to shorten the time between you and your target. And lengthen the amount of rock you cover. Running pitches out by placing less gear, swinging leads, perfect communication, climbing in blocks, managing belays, short fixing are all examples of conserving time through speed. But one of these tactics rules them all, simul-climbing. Simul-climbing can simply be described as both climbers (partners) climbing at the same time, tied together, minimal slack in the rope – in the worst case, a dangerous fall is prevented by the body weight [of each climber] and protection placed in between the leader and follower. Needless to say, many only choose this outing if the route is extremely easy [relative to the climber’s skills (or habitual)], time is of the essence or an urge presents itself to up the ante. All in all, this style requires extreme focus, confidence and above all, trust for your partner. I’ve never felt more in the moment, other than climbing in this fashion. Constant mental awareness and a high-level of thinking manifest themselves involuntarily inside of you. Synchronized movement with your partner commence instead of resting at belays. A steady heart-rate sets the pace while you examine every foot and hand placement, strategically planning for the protection and safety of the team – all the while catching glimpses of your subconscious, never ending faith, that resides in your partner’s abilities. And to the think, in the time it takes me to write this sentence you’ve covered twenty feet, together. One should not fear the worse from this method, however learn to master it, embrace the characteristics, accept the risks and keep it as a close tool – near the front of your harness, for the day you need it.
“Only last week I murdered a rock, injured a stone and hospitalized a brick.” -Muhammad Ali
The Southeast doesn’t afford as many necessary endeavors but once the peaks of the West call your name, you will feel everything abruptly change. The game poses a new ‘face’, everything you once thought you knew shifts, and time… is of the utmost importance. 8, 10, 12 and even 20 pitch routes appear with little introduction or acknowledgement. You read about the first asentionists slogging to complete these climbs in one day with out-dated equipment. And you’re convinced must be from a long line descending directly from Harding and Robbins bastard child. When bivy’s aren’t an option and easier ground is available, speed climbing, moreover simul-climbing, may become the best piece of gear on your harness.
On our ascent of the mega classic, Epinephrine in Red Rock Canyon, this technique became the difference between climbing through loads of choss in the dark and finishing during the daylight. Thirteen identified pitches with a 500 foot fifth-class scramble off the last pitch will surely spike your cholesterol during the pitch black of night. Why not put in that extra work on being swift and smart, especially when you’re looking at 2+ miles on the descent. So while you enjoy the vast granite domes of Looking Glass, the seclusive gneiss of the Linville Gorge or that local crag that feels like home to you, take advantage of an extra route and several pitches by simul-climbing the classic you’ve done every visit. I mean, you know every move of it in your sleep, no better why to get your system dialed. Because you don’t get better by reading about it; it’s the experience, the mini-epics and the practice that makes perfect.
For further education check out: Hans Florine’s book: Speed Climbing! ‘How to Climb Faster and Better – everything you need from ‘A to Z’ to improve your climbing and snag some of the tricks and trades from the master himself… also tune into Mayan Smith-Gobat and Libby Sauter’s new video and ‘Women’s Speed Record’, they put on the Nose of El Capitan during our visit in Oct 2014: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UEvUAXQY9wg HIGH-LEVEL speed climbing in action!!
Joseph Hobby 1/12/15
Brave Explorations. Soulful Discoveries.