Adventures in Mixed Climbing

There are few things more intimidating than having one of your climbing heroes send you a message with a casual “want to climb this week?”

We all have our climbing heroes, and I am lucky enough to live in a town many of them call home. These are people I read about in the news, look up to as those pushing the levels of our sport, and generally see as pretty awesome at what they do. I am nowhere near that level, so when the message comes in, the adrenaline kicks in and my head starts spinning — what the hell am I going to do once we get out? M9 is not exactly what I’d call warm-up territory!

But, who better to learn from than the best, so I always say yes, drop anything and everything else and head out with an open mind.

It was on one such day that I found myself craning my neck up to take in all of Musashi, one of the first M12 routes in the world, and no less a testpiece now. The route is almost entirely horizontal, and even the start is quite overhanging. I had just watched with a sense of awe-struck wonder as Sarah Hueniken — the first North American woman to climb M11 — pulled through some seriously big moves.

“Want to give the start of Musashi a go?” Sarah asked, back on the ground, pulling off her fruit boots, “At least I know the beta for it.”

The pertinent facts flashed in front of my eyes.

Musashi. M12. Big moves to start with. Then fucking big moves on the roof. Then some figure nines / fours. All very horizontal at that point, too. Oh, and there’s a big semi-dyno of about six feet. While you’re hanging upside down in the roof.

I shrugged my shoulders and got my fruit boots. “Sure, why not?!”

ED_Musashi_002Sarah nearing the lip on Musashi.

The only other — viable — option was our ‘warm-up’ route to the right, Cineplex, an M9. We had both gotten stuck three bolts into the awkward roof traverse, and my core was already feeling the effects of, either, scrunching up my torso to try and heel-hook the lip, or, keeping my legs and torso straight far underneath the roof to try and reach the holds there.

I should perhaps at this stage point out that I haven’t even managed to finish an M9, and here I was lacing up for an M12. In rock climbing, this is (roughly) kind of like going from 5.12 to 5.14. And I don’t climb 5.12 all that well, either.

Musashi starts up a typical Rockies pile of choss, loose and iffy-feeling. The first proper hold is a good ledge, but the next two are somewhat less-positive edges, from which there’s a big reach to a pick-swallowing hole. I can’t really remember, but I think the next move is pretty big as well, out to a pocket on the roof. Here you set your feet for the big push into the next hold, a very positive notch, about six feet away.

Feet are surprisingly good, though as they’re either above your head, or somewhere far underneath in the overhang, they’re not as much help as you’d want. There are bolts to clip along the way as well, adding to the pump-factor.

It’s a seriously fun route, even just to the 5th bolt, which is all I had in me. But it is also incredibly inspiring — even the notion that I might, someday, be able to make my way across this massive roof is very exciting. I’m already wondering who I can cajole into the 2-hour drive from Canmore, and planning how I can train to get stronger for the unique challenges this kind of climbing presents. But most of all, my mind has been engaged with solving these peculiar puzzles in rock.

As Jason Nelson recently wrote on the Outdoor Research VertiCulture blog, “ice climbing is the gateway drug that leads you to becoming a mixed climber” and I think I’ve just had my first hit.

ED_Musashi_003Sarah getting into position for the big dyno-like move out into the slot – circled in red. Yup, it’s pretty far. Seems even further when you’re hanging in the roof below it!

“Confessions Of A Mixed Climber” by Jason Nelson

“Sarah Hueniken Climbs M11” on Rock & Ice

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