During a brief spell of temporary insanity last spring Kate and I foolishly booked a three-week trip to Germany. As our departure date approaches (now just four weeks away!), we are becoming increasingly terrified of the prospect of spending 12 hours on an airplane with our two lovely children. Lord have mercy on the rest of the passengers!
Germany is home to the Frankenjura, among the most infamous crags on the planet, and home to more than 10,000 routes! My interest in the Frankenjura should be apparent to anyone who has read our book or followed our blog. I like hard routes, I like pockets, and I like history. The Frankenjura is known for all three. Hard pocket routes are not all that hard to come by — the history is what sets the Frankenjura apart. From a sport climbing perspective, it is likely THE most historically significant crag on the planet.
First off, the Frankenjura is the birthplace of the “redpoint” (or really “rotpunkt” in German). The visionary free climber Kurt Albert authored countless classic climbs throughout the region, and in the mid-1970’s, in order to indicate which sections of cliff had been climbed, he began painting a red circle at the base of routes whose moves had all been freed. Once the route had been led free from the ground, with no falls or hangs, he would fill in the circle to create a red dot. And so the redpoint was born. Some believe that this simple act marked the conception of sport climbing itself.
For those who keep track of important “firsts”, the Frankenjura is unmatched. It’s home to the first 5.13d in the world (Kanal im Rucken, UIAA10 or French 8b), the first 5.14b in the world (Wallstreet, UIAA 11- or F8c) and the first 5.14d in the world (Action Directe, UIAA11 or F9a). [Of course, these were all established by the same legend and hero to pretty much everyone (including Sylvester Stallone), the unparalleled Wolfgang Gullich.] In addition to these landmark climbs, the Frankenjura is home to countless other historically significant climbs like Albert’s Sautanz (5.12c), John Bachar’s Chasin’ the Train (5.12d) and Jerry Moffatt’s Ekel (~5.13a) and The Face (~5.13c).
For me personally, the ultimate reason to visit is to walk in the footsteps of (or perhaps it would be more appropriate to write “stab my fingers into the pockets of”) Wolfgang Gullich. Has any other climber had a greater impact on the sport of free climbing than Gullich? Without question he has inspired entire generations of climbers. Consider that more than 20 years later Action Directe is STILL a cutting edge, rarely repeated testpiece. Besides being the best redpoint climber of his generation, Gullich made tremendous contributions to the community through his interest in training. He developed groundbreaking new training techinques, participated in many climbing training studies, and authored a great deal of literature on the subject (especially the groundbreaking Sportklettern Heute in 1986). I would wager that every single climbing training book authored since his death pays tribute to Gullich. That can’t be said of any other climber.
Usually when I travel overseas I take it relatively easy, only attempting routes I have a shot to onsight, trying to visit as many crags as possible. For this trip I hope to do some projecting, because that was Gullich’s approach. He wasn’t much interested in onsighting. He wanted to do the hardest moves imagineable. For that reason, I really want to be at my best during our trip. I started my training cycle a couple of weeks ago with the hopes of creating a power peak at the end of September.
To that end, my friends at e-Grips hooked me up with a great assortment of pockets to help whip me into shape. [Little did you realize that all that rambling about my hopes and dreams was just a clever introduction to this product review, haha!] I’m still in my Strength Phase, so I’m pretty much only training on the RPTC, but these new holds are getting me really excited for my Power Phase. I can’t wait to get some chalk on these babies! Many manufacturers seem to be shying away from pocket shapes these days, but e-Grips is still turning out the best on the market.
The “easiest” set I received is the Pure Power Pockets I. These are on average the deepest and most-incut set, and the best of them will swallow most of your finger. One of the holds in this set can accept three small fingers, but the rest are all two-finger pockets. These are pretty much one-directional, and ideal for big moves on steeper walls. My preference is definitely for thinner pockets on less-steep walls, and when I have to make big, precise moves to deeper pockets I tend to struggle. I’m certain I will come across many such moves on my trip, so I’m really excited to set some reachy problems with these guys on my 33-degree wall and start attacking that weakness.
The next most-challenging set I received is the Pure Pockets. The set includes two 3-finger pockets and three 2-finger pockets. They vary from 1-2 pads deep, but they’re generally shallower than the set described above. Four of these are incut when the bolt hole is oriented toward the ground (the fifth hold, a 1-pad 3-finger pocket, is neutral). All of these can be flipped to make challenging neutral to sloping pockets, great for vert-ish walls. The shallowest 2-finger pocket in the set is basically neutral but has a nice little lip on it that I really like because it allows you to use it on a much steeper wall than you otherwise would. I really dig this set. The shapes are super smooth and the pockets are essentiall “straight in”, minimizing the risk of collateral ligament tweaks. Moving between them is relatively straightforward (unlike more intricate pockets that require you to carefully thread your fingers into place). This allows for “just plain hard” problems with big moves and dynamic latches. I expect these to be quite challenging on my 33-degree wall.
I’m most excited about the last pocket set in the bunch. I’ve enjoyed e-Grips’ 2Tex Pure Crimps for many years (literally among my five favorite sets of all time). The slippery surface prevents pinching or otherwise “cheating” which allows you to set super-realistic problems. When you set the edges as sidepulls or underclings you can essentially create a route or problem with little or no footholds — which is absolutely critical when setting difficult problems on near-vertical walls. It’s really tough to set a pocket problem that requires challenging footwork, because pocket shapes tend to leave an enormous footprint that can easily be smeared or edged. Enter the 2Tex Pockets….
These pockets have good texture inside the pocket, and a nice slick surface everywhere else. The set includes one fairly incut mono (that can be used as a two-finger stack), a 2-finger pocket with a third finger divot that is marginally useful, and three 2-finger pockets (although really, they could all be oriented sideways for monos). They each offer a larger/more positive pocket when set with the bolt hole towards the ground, or you can flip them over for a really sinsister, shallow and neutral pocket. For this reason, these are probably the most versatile of the three sets. Right-side up, they vary in depth from 1.5-2 pads deep, and they’re all incut (but they’re the least positive of the three sets described here). When oriented upside down, they’re basically 1-pad deep and neutral to sloping, perfect for vert to slightly overhanging terrain. The set includes a cool double pocket that can be used as a pinch or for matching moves.
This set really shines when considering the footwork aspects of route-setting. In most cases the bolt-side pocket lip protrudes a bit, so it can still be used as a foothold (albeit a very challenging one, especially on steep terrain). When set the other way (upside down), you’re straight up campusing! The pockets themselves are more intricate than the Pure Pockets, so they will still be challenging when used in relatively static situations. I’m really pyched on the set and I plan to order another set the next time my wife is away 🙂
Note, this is not an exhaustive examination of e-Grips pockets. Here are my thoughts on some other great pocket sets (like the killer Limestone Pockets).