Alcatraz Repeat: Don't believe the hype (M14 it's not) but it is a great route.
After reading the hype I thought you'd all want to know what's up with the first "M14" in the world. I'm down in Colorado having just climbed it along with Ryan Nelson. Alcatraz was both far more and far less than I thought it would be, as usual I've written a frigging novel about it.
The Hype: The press release, videos and photos laid it on pretty thick: "Way harder than the Game!" "Two hour approach!" "M14!" "WI6+!" "Terrifying Exposure!" "Etc.!" Cough cough, excuse me while I wipe the spray off my face, Jesus. The hype on several Purnell routes has not matched the reality. The hype and over-grading really take away from what is otherwise an excellent route.
The Reality: "Mega Route!" Go do it. The hype/grading posing will in the end be forgotten, leaving an excellent route that Rich can be damn proud to have put up, it is an all-time classic. I had to reorganize three flights and spend some cash to get to Colorado and do this route, it was absolutey worth it. Ryan Nelson and I went up on Saturday, then on Sunday Jared Ogden joined in too. Two of the funner mixed days I've had since, well, last week, grin. Mixed climbing is fucking awesome, mad routes and giving it with good partners are what it's all about for me, I'm just buzzed this Monday morning as I'm sure Ryan and Jared are.
Rich put in a lot of effort to fix all the lines, find the approach and bolt this route. Way back in the day (97?) Jeff Lowe and I had looked at this line too, it's obvious but hard to reach. To have the approach organized with fixed jug and hand lines is critical, good on Rich for doing so. It would be possible to climb all the fixed steps instead of jugging them, this would be interesting climbing and add to the route I think, something for the future. Bring a wrench, some of the bolts on the route are a disaster and should probably be replaced (the bolts on the fixed lines looked good, as did the rigging)
The route is about 13 well-spaced and very steep draws worth of absolutely fantastic climbing up an obvious line of huecos/cracks/pockets/icicles to a small dangler finish. The first half is the technical crux, with some good but not too angry pulls to a large ice-encrusted hueco. If you're really motivated you can stick your head/shoulders into this for a forearm rest, but it's not exactly "restful," it takes a lot of body tension to hold, sort of like a 5.11 offwidth position or something. From there it's pretty straightforward pulling to the ice finish, but wicked pumpy. There's lot of ice in the Huecos, so you have to treat the placements carefully and really think about where your tools are, awesome climbing on good rock. We did break a couple of smaller edges (I probably pull on stuff harder when climbing without spurs), but nothing major, it's still all there and was starting to settle in a bit from the traffic Ryan, Jared and I gave it.
On Saturday (day one) Ryan and I worked out all the moves, and I had my first redpoint go which ended on the upper section when i dropped a tool. I don't think I would have sent anyhow, I was pumped and didn't know the upper moves all that well. The next day Ryan, Jared and I went up and had at it, I redpointed bareback after going through the moves again then Ryan sent it "comp style" (no tool spurring but spurs), then I did a redpoint on it with spurs for grins. Jared was recovering from some nasty disease but put in a spirited effort (both he and Ryan drove five hours over from Durango to have a go at it). No matter how you climb this route it's brilliant climbing. It feels high and airy as it's near the top of the canyon, so you're looking down at the river and out across the canyon, a nice change from the usual limited cave view. Ryan and I both dropped tools, and we both found them, although one of Ryans went to the bottom of the static lines. There are no hard moves, it just goes on forever, something like 60+ feet of wicked steep climbing. This steep but not flat angle is actualy harder than pure horizontal climbing because you have to pull up, not just out. This may be why Rich found it more challenging.
For me the bareback redpoint was absolutely stellar pumping climbing, the sort where you know the pump clock is on and in a few minutes you'll either be in the air or at the top. No hope of a real rest after the large ice hueco, just take what you can to recover, but move before recovery becomes not recovery. My favorite climbing style is when the pump defines the moment, then you forget about it and just keep blasting moves. In this state I don't think, I just climb. For me that's as close to enlightenment as I'm every likely to get, I love it. The spur lap was good too, I could open up more and look around at the Canyon, finger-tighten the spinner hangers, and just enjoy the route. I was still pumped after spurring to the top, but not lethally. Bareback I hit the ice and had to stand there for a minute to two to keep climbing up. I definitely could not have done another lap without spurs, I was hammered. Bareback you can do a lot of fun toe cams, raking (secondary points pulling), drop knees and technical moves, wicked good climbing no matter how you do it. I think I've perhaps been too militant about the whole spur thing (I do tend to react strongly to the smell of bullshit), good climbing is good climbing, give 'er.
The Grade: Hmmm... Ryan and I are hopefully both climbing well, but we both did it second day. The crux is organizing all the moves and being efficient. Once that's sorted there are no stopper moves, and with spurs you can rest at will due to the horizontal features for your spurs. The Game is a lot harder (Alcatraz took me two days and I climbed it on day two with no rest day, The Game took six+ and there is no way I could do it without a rest day first), but Alcatraz is a very different route, power endurance vs. pure endurance. I'd compare this route to a classic steep limestone endurance route such as something in the Arsenal or at Acephale. Musashi has harder moves and less features to heel spur on (tool spurs are the same obviously), but is shorter. So, I'd go with M11 with full trickery, and M12 or 12+ bareback. On the redpoint I was still making sequences up, something that wasn't possible on The Game Reloaded. Even with full trickery you're still going to have an aerobic workout from hell, just getting your foot up to spur takes a lot of juice when done 25 times in a row. The icicle is not WI6, it's a nice little icicle that's pretty solid. We were gentle with it, it's still there but drying out, get it before it flakes off (it will be OK to climb without it though).
This route would be flashable and perhaps onsightable with spurs, i expect it will be.
Ryan felt his and Jared's new route in Lake City, Jedi Mind Tricks, was both a larger roof and harder route. I may try to head up there on the way back from Norway, he and Jared made it sound pretty damn awesome.
In short it's a great route, ignore the hype. Reportedly Rich did do some of the hype to get people up there, if so then his plan worked, grin.
Thanks to Ryan and Jared for the good days and energy, it helped a lot to be up there with good people going hard. And thanks to Rich too--I call bullshit on the hype, but the climbing wasn't hyped half enough, this route deserves a place in the top five great routes of all time. Without Rich's work it would be nothing.
Approach Beta: Park at Shoshone (only east-bound access from I-70). Enjoy the industrial ambience of hanging out under a freeway, then hike upstream on the "closed" bike path for about 10 minutes, cross the river at the first ice bridge, hike back along the railroad tracks until you're almost directly across from the Shoshone parking. Keep an eye out to the left, the wire rockfall warning strands beside the railroad tracks will go to two strands for a bit (instead of five or six), there's a handline hanging down there. Follow the handlines and generally head straight up to some fixed static lines, short easy jug steps lead to the cave. Ryan and I did it in 1:30 from the car to climbing with full packs and 1:10 without (A "two-hour" approach it's not), but save your energy for the climb as we did 'cause you're going to need it! You WILL need jugs but it's pretty casual, just short steps, we took it Canadian Rockies speed (slow) and it's surprisingly pleasant.
Finally, a big thanks to JD Leblanc, who got me fired up to change a bunch of plne tickets and make this happen.