In an article a few weeks ago (Thunder Strike – Part I), I unveiled a couple new routes I established last spring at Thunder Ridge, Colorado’s premier granite crag (IMHO). As soon as I made the first redpoint of Game of Drones, I went directly to the next on the list; an unfinished route ominously listed in the guide as “Kevin’s Mega Project“. This was a commanding line taking a fairly direct path up the center of the tallest and most imposing face at Thunder Ridge.
This line was envisioned and mostly bolted by Kevin Stricker, a long time Colorado climber and route developer. He had worked on the line from the ground up, putting in 8 bolts, but never completed the project before taking a long hiatus from hard climbing (though he had gotten really close on the lower crux sections). When I arrived on the scene, the route ended with a bolt in the start of the high roof, which looked intimidating.
I led up the route with a selection of draws and cams, and trailed a line so I could haul up any bolting gear I might need. I quickly discovered the crux around the 2nd and 3rd bolts. It would require very intense crimping on micro-edges with terrible feet…my specialty! Taller climbers may be able to leave their feet on the big ledge below while reaching for a better crimp up high, but I would need to rely on my finger strength.
At the 3rd bolt, it’s possible to swing out left into an “open book” that provides a nice rest, then some 11+ climbing leads up to the slab, and eventually the roof. As I worked the route, I would later decide that the line could go more directly between the 3rd and 6th bolts, making the route more sustained and more aesthetic. On a later trip I re-routed the line, adding a bolt, and removing another, to straighten out the line.
On this first trip, though, I just needed to reach the top of the wall. When the bolts ran out, I fired up my trad skills and went exploring!
Though I was able to make it to the top on gear, I didn’t want to establish a route like that, so on my way down, I put in an anchor and added two bolts to protect the roof. Now the fun part – learning the beta and preparing to send. I had just finished my last hangboard workout, so my Power phase was just beginning. I would need a couple weeks to get into my peak fitness, so that gave me time to learn the moves, and most importantly, toughen the skin on my fingers to be able to hold onto the sharp crimpers. It was at this time that we got hammered with snow a few times, so the timing worked out pretty well. On one visit, I burned an entire day waiting for the wall to dry, only to realize it was being fed by a massive cornice/snowpatch on the summit, and my patience was unjustified 🙂
In the interim, we enjoyed some of TR’s other great routes. Every day, I warmed up on Chocolate Thunder, a face climber’s dream route on the right side of the Brown Wall:
We also were able to make time for the kids to climb on nearly every trip. Thunder Ridge is an awesome family crag because there is so much variety in grades and styles, and it’s easy to rig top ropes. The bouldering is also incredible:
My first full day working on the route wasn’t until about a week after I finished bolting it. For my entire first burn I was still unable to do the crux move…getting to that good crimper at the 2nd bolt. I could envision the move, and touch the hold, but couldn’t stick it yet. I was frustrated because the holds were really tearing up my skin, but I took solace in the fact that it was still very early in my power phase. On my second burn, I still couldn’t stick it, so I continued to the top of the wall to work the rest of the route. On my way down, I decided to try that crux move one last time, and to my immense surprise, I stuck it for the first time! Now I knew for sure the route would go…assuming the weather and my skin would hold together. I had figured out a subtle hip twist that gave me just a bit more extension to reach the crux hold with my right hand. It was just what I needed to end the day on a high note and keep me psyched to train through my Power phase!
The wall faces West and slightly South, so it stays shady until about 11:00, but my best burns were early in the morning. I didn’t often get more than two burns per day, which was fine because my fingertips couldn’t handle much more. I wouldn’t get back on the route for another 2 weeks due to other travel (wedding and work). Fortunately, this gave me time to bring my power up, but it put me under pressure to send before the hot weather arrived.
I made it back out to Thunder the first week of May, well-trained and with bomber skin. My first go on the route was already an improvement…I was able to do the crux move on my first try. This is also when I re-engineered the line to make it more direct. I got 3 really good burns that day, and was able to link through the crux on my last burn (I fell on the new direct sequence, which turned out to add significantly to the pump factor). I don’t usually climb 2 days in a row, but I had to in this case, to capitalize on the weekend and good weather. My previous burns had been pretty short due to the sun/shade situation, so I wasn’t as worked as I would normally be. We went out again on Sunday, and this time a few of the Cadets from the USAFA Climbing Team joined us. It was their first time at Thunder, and it’s always an awesome experience to share a cool crag with someone for the first time. It helps reinvigorate your psyche, and it also helped entertain the kids 🙂
I warmed up by climbing the upper part of the project, which allowed me to rehearse the new direct sequence again, then gave it a burn. Being second-day on, I knew this was my best chance. I set up for the crux perfectly, then did that critical hip twist and really exaggerated it to make sure I was doing it right. I stuck the crux hold, then motored-on through the next crimpers, pasting my feet on mere shadows. The sequence ends with a wild dyno straight left to a good hold, but with your feet cutting off and swinging wildly. I managed to stick this, then tried to relax for the remaining sequence up to the slab. This involved the re-engineered portion of the route, which has 5.12 climbing on rounded edges. It’s nowhere near as hard as the crux, but it’s hard enough, and with worn out skin, those edges are hard to hold onto. I focused on precise footwork, and my feet pushed me through to the slab.
I was able to rest really well on the slab, and rely on my decades of slab climbing to get through some pretty non-trivial moves. The roof, though large and intimidating, is actually relatively easy, but makes for some nice photos. These were shot by Chris Alstrin with a quad-rotor “drone”:
I monkeyed through the roof, and the “Mega Project” was a project no more. The Legacy was a hard struggle for me, and I decided to rate it 5.14a, which makes it one of the hardest routes in the South Platte. It is a truly outstanding face climb, but it’s much more than that, with killer climbing of all varieties. As I mentioned, pro filmmaker Chris Alstrin came out to document the climb, and we have some incredible aerial gigs of Thunder Ridge and The Legacy that we will premier as part of a larger film. For now, check out the last part of Chris’ highlight reel to get a teaser of what is in store (00:24 and 00:48).
In the following weeks, I made several more trips out to Thunder to climb some of the classic routes, and make sure that I had a good feel for the grades. I made a point to try the hardest routes in order to establish some credibility for the ratings I was proposing. I was able to make on-sights of Thunderstruck, 13a, The Penetrators, 12c, and The Shadow, 12b at the Brown Wall, Starlight, 12d in Wasp Canyon, and The Rodeo, 12d at the Quarry Wall. These routes were tough, and great lines, and the difficulty of the climbing was consistent with what I would expect for granite face climbing, so I feel confident in the grades I’ve assigned to my new routes.
Getting to explore Thunder Ridge this spring and summer has been a real treat…one of the highlights of my climbing career. Thank you so much to all the pioneers that developed routes there before me, and especially to Kevin Stricker for envisioning what would become The Legacy, and graciously offering it to the community. I have plenty more to explore in that area, and look forward to many crisp days on the Thunder’s perfect granite.