ClimbingTrip Journal

Cramming Cracks with the Colorado Quartet

By March 23, 2012 8 Comments

Byron takes a break from filming to work the moves on Sex After Death (V8)

Before we get into this post, let us first apologize to the friends whose music we used in the first video update. We inexplicably forgot to credit them at the end, so we’re doing it here. The incredibly dope instrumental versions of electronic songs were produced by ATLAS. The incredibly dope mix was produced by Scott Kasting AKA DJ Onezie. Please click on the links to go to their Soundcloud profiles. Or else you hate music.

We’ve officially been on the road for a month now. Time flies, and it feels like the days blend together, loosely grouped into nebulously defined chapters. For example, there was the Neal, Matt, Zack and Dan chapter, which closed after the Rock Rodeo. Then there was a relatively relaxed chapter, during which we slowly met and befriended various “Ranch Rats.” With the close of our first month on the road, we closed another chapter, which, if we named these things, we might call “The Rocky Mountain Bender.”

Brad (right) and Adam taking a day off.

Allow me to introduce Brad Jackson, Adam Papilion, Justin Edl and Chris “Spaz” Van Leuven. We were initially introduced by Nikias, and we quickly realized that these quirky dudes were our kind of folk. They drove a very long way to Hueco Tanks in order to climb cracks. WTF??? Cracks? Well, it turns out that these jumbled lumps of rock lend themselves quite well to all kinds of fissures. In fact, some of the three-star lines in the guidebook are cracks, like The Terminator and The Morgue. But for every established crack climb, there are dozens as yet unsullied by human hands.

The Colorado guys form a somewhat unlikely clique. At first glance, Brad is intense. His blue eyes pierce into your soul, and his body looks forged in the fires of Mordor. If he were a park ranger, I would never talk back. He has been around: having put up many wide cracks in Vedauwoo and even the famous Belly Full of Bad Berries in Indian Creek, he took a short vacation from climbing and has re-entered the scene with renewed vigor for fresh stone. He also started a company called Summit Strength Training, building custom training plans for alpinists and others. For his steely demeanor, he’s actually gentle and hilarious. He even acted in an upcoming comedic short that we filmed. His primary goal of the trip was to snag the FA of an off-width-to-hands-to-fingers roof crack project on North Mountain that Jason Kehl had pointed out.

Brad was interviewed in January, 2012 by Spaz. Spaz can best be described (in Adam’s words) as an “introverted extrovert.” Spaz started climbing long ago and earned his nickname during a long stay in Yosemite. He is freelance writing for anyone who will employ him, and he is now part of the off-width contingent and is currently writing two articles about their stay in Hueco.

When Brad looks at you, you listen to what he has to say. End of story.

Spaz demonstrating hand-stacking (I think).

Adam doesn’t throw down climbs with big numbers, but I challenge you to find a happier, more psyched person at the crag or around the campfire. His humor is at once hilarious and comforting without being hokey, and his musical chops on the Kaossilator are unparalleled. He’s the type of guy to lift the spirits of whomever he’s around with a single comment. Frustrated after falling past the crux on a roof climb, he yelled, in rapid succession “Dammit!” “FUCK!” “I am such a badass!” Climbing with Adam, you can’t help but feel that you’ve let him, and yourself, down if you give less than 100%.

Justin is just damn impressive. Hewn of the same block of steel as Brad, he can stroll through any width of crack as casually as Lance Armstrong rolls over mountains, except Lance can’t pull double digits on the V scale. He’s a bit more subdued than the rest of the crew, but he eats bacon, steak and veggies with as much gusto as anyone.

Justin filling the gaps on Mother of the Future (V9)

We started hanging out with this foursome one day on North Mountain. Near the Top of The Chains area, Justin found an awkward roof crack that most likely hadn’t seen an ascent. Byron, ever quick on the draw with a camera when something remarkable might happen, started setting up. The Colorado contingent was quickly impressed with the reflectors, the pocket dolly, and the Sony, and we filmed Justin making the first ascent. He did so mostly upside-down with his feet jammed deep in the fissure, head likely pounding with increased blood flow. And somehow, he made it look graceful.

This was the first of many impressive feats we witnessed. The next day we followed them to The Morgue, a mega-classic V5 hand crack traversing the length of a nearly horizontal roof. I tried it once, got halfway through, and had a handjam painfully rip out. Adam worked it hard and nearly sent, Spaz sent it after multiple tries, and Brad did a repeat for the cameras. Justin, for his part, was not content to just do the route. He found an alternate exit to the climb that leaves the crack slightly early and uses some small crimps to gain the topout jugs. It also avoids the crappy multi-boulder topout. After working the beta, he sent it first go from the start (even chatting about beta while resting before the crux) and named it The Obituary. He won’t grade it, but having tried the moves, I’d have to say that just the exit is worth 7 or 8 V points. The footage of the send, and of many other antics with the Colorado boys, is awaiting an edit.

Another day, we toured the East Spur. I watched and filmed as Justin very nearly did Mother of the Future, an extremely long roof crack with awkward finger jams, put up in the early 80s by John Sherman. At the end of the day, Justin also cruised the super duper low start to The Dark Flower, just to the left of Glas Roof. Speaking of which, GR is amazing and I’m falling on the last move (which is, of course, the hardest).

Last Sunday was the last day for Brad and Adam, as Justin and Spaz left for home that morning. Brad had one goal and one goal only: to get the first ascent of the aforementioned project. Vikki and I followed them to the boulder with camera gear, while Byron stayed behind to finish up some homework. It should be noted that allowing us to take the camera gear was a major step forward for us in terms of gaining Byron’s trust with his gear.

It should also be noted that we lost one of Byron’s 16GB memory cards on that day. But I digress.

This crack is amazing. The video will give an actual picture, but I’ll try to paint the crack in some detail so you can get an idea of how cool it is. It starts with a fissure about 7 or 8 inches wide, which one can only start by jamming legs in deep and torqueing the feet. The smooth crack narrows uniformly to about a wide fist over the first ten feet or so, at which point it turns 90 degrees and becomes a hand crack. Over the next ten feet it narrows to thin fingers, at which point one must cut feet and throw them around the bulge to the left and top out. The landing is heinous, though protectable.

Brad Jackson working the wide-pony start of his roof project

Brad pulled a Caldwell some years ago and has a bum left index finger, which made the final finger lock impossible. He had to figure out alternate beta for the finish, which, after wrestling through the beginning, could be heartbreaking. As a complete joke, I suggested liebacking the second half. I pulled on and found a good foot rail, and to my surprise started making the moves. Needless to say, Brad was shocked: a boulderer had something to teach him about crack climbing! He worked the moves for memorization’s sake, and I got behind the pocket dolly to capture the first ascent.

Brad crammed his legs into the crack and quickly and confidently shuffled his way, wide-pony style, through the first section. He pulled his legs out and jammed a left kneelock behind his hands and transitioned past the 90 degree turn. At this point, it was all about execution, and Mr. Jackson did just that. From my perch inside the cave, I watched his foot disappear as he topped out, and heard him yell with just a touch of irony, “That was easy!” The wind had picked up considerably at this point and, according to Vikki, he nearly fell over backward off the top.

Brad and Adam left that evening after one last round of El Pasito and a couple episodes of the Sopranos in our trailer. They kindly invited us to stay with them in Fort Collins and to join them on a John Gill circuit at Horsetooth Reservoir, which we could not be more excited for.

Hueco Tanks has a new boulder problem: West Texas Torque, V5 FA Brad Jackson 3/18/2012. It is located on North Mountain, about 10 yards northeast of 2 Minutes Underwater. If you go, bring pads and two spotters, and please keep an eye out for a 16 gig SD card.

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