birthday challenge
November 27, 2012 posted by

BDC P1: Sometimes The Bear Eats You

Birthday Challenge ’12, part I. A man much wiser than myself once said, “sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you”. Today’s event falls under the latter category.

The weather had been a bit dicey and when I sent out my pre-challenge email hoping to wrangle support. I got a reply from Bob making fun of my optimism given the less-than-stellar conditions. Turns out he was right. Here’s the report I sent out after what turned into just another training day.

A bit too optimistic, yes. This failure falls under two categories:

1) November is always a crap shoot weather-wise.

2) It’s always the unknown part of the challenge the gets you.

Taking the second part first, aware of the above possibility I started on the 3 routes I hadn’t had time to rehearse, beginning with the hardest. Figured if I could do it things would be all downhill, so we warmed up in the garage (I did one of the easier practice 12s I’d set during training and felt good). It was also in the sun first thing in the morning, which seemed like a good idea with the chilly forecast.

Well, it turned out to be hard, but doable, so the logistics seemed right. The weather forecast, not so much. It was in the sun for about 2 minutes when we got there, followed by clouds, wind, and intermittent squawls. There was also a huge water streak, which had shown up since I put the draws on it two days early, and the trail had gotten worse, so the approach was more arduous, but that’s nitpicking. The real issue was the weather.

Anyway, because this route was completely dry two days prior and it hadn’t rained or snowed we didn’t bring the torch up. So during the full upper section one foot was always on wet holds. I put the draws on it and sussed the moves. Dried it best I could. Then proceeded to fail at the 3rd to last move, then the 2nd to last move twice. Clearly because of a foot slip once but I was also pumped and couldn’t feel the holds so it was hard to say. We had a heater so I’d start warm but on each go, post “crux” at a shake out jug, I couldn’t feel anything, perhaps due to conditions akin to climbing in a car wash. The finishing moves didn’t feel too bad but the holds are very small and slopey, not great for numb fingers. Anyway, after the last failure it was really too late to complete everything else so I decided to hope the weather improved and reboot, turning the day into more training.

The positive takeaway here is that the route turned out great–far better than expected. Hard from start to finish. Probably “stand-up 12b” or soft c according to Ben.

Went home to drop off Romney, as there was no longer reason to keep her suffering with us, and the weather was perfect. Headed up to the Choss Garden, which had the other two routes I hadn’t gotten on. Weather at the car was great. At the cliff (after a terrible approach post holing into talus–always good fun) the “car wash effect” had followed us. Howling wind, spitting rain, which we couldn’t tell if it was coming from the sky of the wet streaks on the wall. It was so bad Ben didn’t bother booting up.

First half of the lower part of the first route was wet and icy, which made it a little exciting. This “pitch” is only 5.10, leading to my extension, an easy/mid 11 that went really well.

Lowered down the new finish I’d bolted that was linking the cruxes of a 12a and 11d (which I’d done recently and it felt easy). I knew my section would be the crux but since you hit it after a big rest I didn’t think it would change the grade. I was wrong. It was both wet and icy and the sky was wet, so it’s kind of hard to say, but this section was far longer than I expected. 19 new moves after 24 moves off the previous 2 routes. I tried it quite a bit and didn’t get it clean. Blaming it on an “insta-freeze” big flat hold in the middle of the crux that would render my hand useless after I grabbled it (maybe some Buddhist Palm effect). I’m sure it’ll be easier in proper conditions but I think it’s going to be solid b and maybe harder if the rest doesn’t pan out on redpoint as good as I think it will.

Back in town weather was still nice. People were cycling in shorts. Most of the snow had melted. So we headed up Grandeaur to check out Hydrogen Psychosis, another of the perceived hardest routes. As soon as we get near the crag the weather that had been following us around all day returned. Blasting wind, freezing temps, all in all pretty awesome. I’d cleaned the top of this route of snow on Wed and it was completely wet. It was now dry so I lowered down it to re-chalk the holds, I was feeling absolutely cooked by this time but I went post-crux to the top in one go much easier than I expected then did the crux section and the crux clip without incident before calling it a day and turning the route over to Ben hoping he’d find some easier sequences. He didn’t but he liked the route a lot, calling it super techie and “a powerful son-of-a-bitch” in the 12b/c range.

We were assessing all the routes on the way down and think that all of the 12s might be 12b (originally thought 2 would be a), plus another 11d or 12a and two mid 11s. This is harder than expected but still doable. I was absolutely cooked at the end but we’d also done the hardest approaches and probably as much volume as if I’d done all of the climbing and gotten it first try. Trail conditions were grim, definitely adding an element as there’s probably more than 3,000′ of ascent. Most importantly, all of the routes are quality; great local additions that I’ll continue to do for fun.

On the food/drink element: 5 fritters and 12 Olys – zero chance. Ben and I ate 3.5 fritters between us. Felt awful. Bob said he thought 5 fritters would be impossible in 12 hours and I think he’s right. We had two boxes with 6 fritters in each and it felt like it weighted 20 pounds! Not sure what I’ll do for the food and drink element, which isn’t such a big deal when you plodding all day and burning calories but a real hindrance when you want to your body to perform a 100% anaerobic effort.

If I had good conditions and a great day I could pull it off (about how a birthday challenge should feel, like everything has to go perfect), and I’m going to try when I get the chance.

And try I did. Will post as soon as I get the chance…


  • Love the supportive wife… "If you blow this one, do we get to just go home and eat fritters?" Looks grim Steve. Rad. Micah

  • Yea, Romney's comment was the best part of tht video.I think that the most amazing part of the challenge is that you were able to find so many new routes in and around SLC. But then you've always had an eye for the modern classics…

  • Nice uniform, but even in perfect conditions you'll never succeed without doing proper warm-up exercises.

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