Saturday, January 02, 2010


I'm back in Ouray, Colorado, home to the most extensive collection of ice climbs in the smallest area anywhere in the world. And the approaches are under ten minutes from the town! The Ouray Ice Park is the best place to climb a lot of ice in the world I think, a truly remarkable expression of ice and human enterprise coming together. Plus the San Juans spike above the town into the blue sky, it's just a stellar place to be and one of my favorite spots of all time both for the geography and people who live here. I have a lot of history here over the last 15 years or so both from the ice festival and summer outings, it's a home away from home for me really.

Anyhow, yesterday I went out and ran solo laps on the route I'll be climbing during the endless ascent effort, Pic of the Vic. It's a great line, everything a good ice climb should be. Bit of a shaky pillar start, varied, just really nice climbing. I only did 30 laps, but the climb is about 140 or 150 feet high so that's around 4,000+ feet (I'm going to use imperial units 'cause this is the USA). I felt lousy. No way around it. Every athlete has good and bad days, for me yesterday was brutal. My feet kept blowing, everything hurt, it was a sucker punch to the head kinda day as far as the climbing went. But it was good to see some old friends, and it's hard to maintain a bad attitude in such a beautiful place, with so many psyched people swinging tools. By the middle of the session I'd just accepted that today I was going to suck, and sucked it up. As the park emptied of people my headlamp and I moved through the darkness on our own yo-yo path, and there was some peace. I was surprised when I hit the top of the canyon a couple of times; I'd just been climbing, moving, not thinking too much. I was on a self-belay so there was no one to talk to once the last people were gone, just the canyon and me. It hit me that I'd never been in the canyon without lots of people; in the darkness it felt different, closer, larger. Yet another side of a special place.

I walked home in the dark a happy man. A bad day of training in a beautiful place beats hell out of a good day of just about anything else. I have seven days before I try and climb as much ice as I can in 24 hours. The thought is, honestly, horrifying. I know that special circumstances bring forth special efforts, but yesterday's effort took me about four hours give or take. That's one sixth of what I'm up against in terms of time. As I sat in a nice restaurant eating shrimp with a glass of wine last night I thought about the fact that I'd still be climbing if yesterday were the first 12 hours of the climb. As I lay in bed with a small child jumping on my head I thought about the fact that I'd still be climbing. Hell, as I'm writing this it's less than 24 hours after I was climbing yesterday. I simply can't imagine what the Endless Ascent is going to feel like. Bring it.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Unknown: Endless Ascent Math

Unknown. I love that word. The pursuit of the "unknown" keeps me interested in life, getting out of bed in the morning, and motivated to sleep fast so I can get back at it in the morning. First ascents of climbs, first descents of rivers, attempts to do things differently (climb icebergs, fly over a big ditch on my paraglider), it's all about getting off the square of my mind that is "known" and setting a course for the place where things get weird.

Which brings me to the endless ascent. The goal is to climb as much ice as I can in 24 hours, and raise money for something that matters, the dZi foundation. Why climb ice for 24 hours? Because I don't know what will happen. I know what will happen when I go out ice climbing in general, but I have no idea what's going to happen after about 12 hours of ice climbing.

Everyone wants to know, "How much ice do you think you can climb?" Warning, longer answer ahead... In my training I've done some days around 2,100M/6600 feet, or roughly two El Capitans. I've been training in mostly 20-minute blocks; longer blocks would be better probably, but when it's butt cold 20 minutes is long enough to get your heart rate way up, and your belayer to still be warm. So I go like hell for 20 minutes, the belayer stays warm pulling rope in, we switch as fast as reasonably possible, repeat for up to eight hours. Plus the Plice sessions...

In roughly ten or tweleve 20-minute sessions with some bonus laps I have done 50+ laps on a 35M/120 foot grade 5+ climb (Tokkum Pole). But that's spread out over roughly seven hours, so that's a little under 300M/an hour when counted against the total time. It's about twice that on an "hourly" basis. This is of course extrapolation; the difference between doing 20-minute blocks for eight hours and climbing for 24 hours is of course HUGE.

I've spent a lot of time looking at the results for 24-hour ski races, mountain bike races and other 24-hour events. Things definitely slow way down after about 12 hours (with rare exceptions from people who really, really know how to pace themselves). And that's going to be the trick--pacing myself so I go slow enough at the start. I'll really want to go hard, but that will NOT be helpful. I've done a lot of very long "days" in the mountains, it's definitely a rule that the slower you go at the start the faster you go at the end. Even going too hard for an hour or two early in the day will ruin you late in the day...

So how much vertical is possible? My biggest training day so far has been about 3100M/6600 feet. Double that would be about 150M/500 feet an hour for 24 hours. That's my first goal: 3800M, or about 12,000 feet. That would be a HUGE day in my book. I've never heard of anyone climbing that much. Someone probably has, and that's cool 'cause it would be big. Skiing, sure, I've done close to that, and done easy climb/scrambles/traverses that had around 3,000M of vertical gain (that took 12 hours just to go up...). Vertical water ice is a lot more intense than skiing up or even easy mountaineering style climbing/scrambling. I often hike 1,000M/3000 feet to the paraglider launch behind my house; that's casual compared to climbing near-vertical ice. I didn't think the difference would be so large to be honest, but it is. The unknown strikes again.

So there's the math. I figure I can do 3,000M most likely. It will hurt, and that's something like 70 laps out of the canyon. Ouray is obviously in the USA, so you in feet I'd be stoked to do 12,000 feet measured in local units. 15,000 would be huge I think, but that's almost triple my biggest training day...

And when I run all these numbers and think about the unknown it always comes down to this: if I'm not moving I'm not moving. All the "exterior" numbers are just that, and in a way irrelevant. What matters is pacing myself well, working with the great group of people I've got helping, and grinding away. I know I'm going to feel lousy, my tendons will hurt, my shoulders will ache, everything is going to suck so bad at some point that I'm going to want to quit so much... The trick will be to keep grinding. The math? Can't control that. Move.