Friday, August 21, 2020

Frank Slide Retrospective

*written in fall of 2019

*as mentioned, without these people in particular, none of this would have occurred: Trent Hoover, Mark Derksen, Kyle Marco, Evan Erickson, and Dan Anhorn.

*one regret I have is having been a bit ignorant and overzealous at times. The first-ascent experience always has something a little more special to it, and every first-ascent experience you get becomes one that nobody else can have, and this was something I never thought about early on. I try to consider this more carefully now, and leave things that might be a bit more special for someone else.  I wish I had thought about this much earlier on.

"Into the Void". Someone once told me they didn't want to go to Frank because they didn't want to drive two hours to climb four-foot tall boulders . . .

It was the spring of 2014, and I had spent the last two winters working through the more well known bouldering areas in the Rockies with Dan Anhorn (a climbing partner whose psyche and gameness simply cannot be exaggerated). With projects cleaned up, blank spots filled in, and nearly every conceivable variation contrived, it felt like I was running out of rock to climb, and I wasn't sure what the next step would be (this was also prior to the seemingly tireless work of the Eveleigh brothers' scouring for, hiking to, and developing a number of new areas).

Cue two names popping up on the popular climbing logbook app, "Sendage": Trent Hoover and Mark Derksen.  I had no knowledge of either person, although Trent's name did ring a bell (upon reviewing a few guidebooks, I realized why - turns out, if someone is tirelessly friendly and enthusiastic, well traveled, and constantly finding, cleaning, climbing, and sharing new areas, their name gets around). The significance of this was that they were putting up new problems in a seemingly forgotten area: Frank Slide.

Frank Slide had seen action in the past from many of the players in Rockies bouldering (Seth Mason, Lev Pinter, Marcus Norman, and Adam Currie to name a few . . . I'm sure there were many others), but seemed to have waned in appeal. Around 2008, give or take a year, I had made a couple of trips down to Frank, and found many of the same qualms as others - namely that it was very hard to navigate the area and interpret problem descriptions. A huge amount of development had been done by a crew of Lethbridge climbers including the immensely personable duo of Kyle Marco and Evan Erickson. However, the bulk of this went unpublished, and Frank Slide sat largely unknown and vastly underappreciated.

By the late 2000's, Frank Slide was already home to a number of classics - "Crack Attack", "Origins", "Little Hulkamaniac", "Jahealy", "Mushroom Campus", "Albatross", "Healing Arete", "Smack Talk", and "Relentless", to name but a few - as well as testpieces - Evan Erickson's "Nintendo 69", "Fender", "Krimptonite", "Baby Jesus Dyno", and "Rising Tithes", Seth Mason's "Cartel", Devin Goodsman's "Railway", the mysterious lines of "Crowded House", "Salacious", and "Chaingang", "Dragon Fire", and Adam Currie's "Dark Age". As mentioned, though, all of this had gone largely unknown and certainly unheralded.

So, with my attention brought back to the area, I cobbled together what I could from Marcus' guidebooks, Trent's blog and PDF guides, and various and Sendage descriptions, and returned to the area with fresh eyes. After one weekend both testing out and polishing off some outstanding lines in the Railway and House area and on the newly minted Aftermath boulder, I was hooked, and resolved to spend the rest of the spring and summer tapping into this wellspring of bouldering.

I spent the summer of 2014 living in a tent at the highway-side Bellevue campground, and roaming endlessly through the labyrinthine talus of The Slide. The summer heat often forced me into spending long mid-day hours at the Blairmore library and Tim Horton's, where I'm sure my dusty and disheveled appearance led employees to believe I was some transient drifter settled in for the warmer months. However, the early morning and late evening hours provided reasonable enough conditions to work my way through most of the existing body of climbing in The Slide.

Earlier that season, I had also contacted Trent about a post he had written in regards to the open projects in Frank. After an enthusiastic reply from Trent and a generous few days of Trent and Kyle touring me around several projects and new areas, my life would be forever altered - and that is without an ounce of exaggeration. I actually owe Trent an enormous debt of gratitude. His effort and eagerness to share information opened a whole new world of bouldering to me. A few days of observing him enlightened me in how to look for lines, rap down boulders, and clean and prep rock. Since then, I have spent well over 200 days in Frank, had the privilege to climb well over 1200 problems there (including establishing over 500 first ascents), both met and married my incredible wife in the Crowsnest Pass, and spent countless memorable hours driving in the glow of the radio and bubble of my own headlights with a steaming cup of coffee, pilgrimaging to projects under crystal blue skies (and fog, and rain, and snow, and 100+ km/h wind), laughing and bumbling and throwing down and throwing tantrums - with friends and, often, all by myself.

There have been far too many amazing moments (post-holing continuously around the Slide to sweep off boulders one snowy Thanksgiving; post-holing too and from the River King, including an icy down-to-your-underwear river crossing; post-holing and crawling to Crysknife with pads in tow like a sled . . . there's been a lot of post-holing - not to mention crawling out from the Porcelain boulder with a torn achilles, and halfway longing for the sweet release of death on one particularly long and arduous descent from the Crown Jewel boulder) and far too many amazing lines to recall and list here, and I've tried to stay aware and remind myself that this has been a rare and serendipitous meeting of the right time, the right place, and the right people, that very few climbers get blessed with, and to make sure I've appreciated it while it's happening, rather than looking back one day and realizing the good ol' days came and went right under my nose.

Some of the most memorable projects to go down have included the stunning lines of "The Shield", "The King in the North", and "Apollo 11".  Evan graciously toured me through the Spiderweb sector, resulting in the opening of "The Renaissance" and "Deliverance". Of course, there have been the endless link-ups on the Railway boulder, the Beach Cave, and the Mushroom boulder, culminating in "The Sun Also Rises", "The Wheel of Beach Cave", and "Quantum Leap". With a highball itch that needed to be scratched, the obvious line of "Colossus" on the House boulder was established, followed by the intimidating "Superbeast", the beautiful and compelling "Call of the Wild", and progressively bolder and bolder lines being tested on the Giant, winding up with "Into the Void".

"The Shield"

"The King in the North" (photo from Tim Banfield, Tim Banfield Photography)

The topout of "Belly of the Beast" and "Superbeast"

Click here to see a rather comical video of "Call of the Wild"

The topout of "Do Not Go Gentle", "Before I Sleep",
and "Into the Void"

Eventually, attention was turned across the river to The Pilgrimage, and far up the slopes of Turtle Mountain to Mecca and The Promised Land, resulting in "Voyageur low", "A River Runs Through It", "The Prophet sit", "Crown Jewel", "The Promised Land", and "The Worm".

"The Promised Land"

"Voyageur low" (video by Dan Anhorn)

"A River Runs Through It"

"Crown Jewel" (video by Dan Anhorn)

There is still potential for hundreds more problems of all difficulties (especially if you're willing to hike), and several full-value projects in the range of V13 to who-knows-how-hard.

There are many projects to be done in Frank still. There are a few I've put substantial time and effort into which are nearly complete, and others that are just ideas at this point, and might be the next step for the next wave and generation of bouldering in the Slide. The line pictured above is the most special project remaining for me. It is the one I am most drawn to, most motivated by, and have put by far the most days and training into.  There are sequences, and a single move, that have taken me years to unlock.  It feels almost custom built for me to push my limit on, and is (by a fairly large margin) the hardest thing I have ever tried. After investing years into the Slide and into this line, I continue to work it and make steady progress, inching closer and closer year by year. I hope to one day make it the capstone of my contributions to the bouldering in Frank.

Last, I've been very pleased to see that the documentation on 27crags has actually turned out to be of use to the community. Marcus started the process of transferring his initial guides onto the website, and this spring saw many days of 12 to 15 (and sometimes more) people in The Slide, many using the 27crags app and GPS coordinates.

With the creation of SABA and the continuation of the Tour de Frank, the hidden gem of Frank Slide bouldering will hopefully enjoy the stewardship and appreciation of many more people in the future.

It's been a remarkable time, and the gift that keeps on giving.  Thanks to everyone who has been a part of it.

Perhaps the best boulder in Frank, "Little Hulkamaniac". When I stumbled across this, it was the first time I saw a line and thought, I don't know what this is, but I have to climb it. As it turned out, it was an already established classic, but that sentiment has been the main driving force behind my climbing ever since - the endless search for the cannot-be-ignored lines and challenges - thanks again, largely, to Trent. And thanks to Dan Anhorn for this and many other videos, which we should have taken so, so many more of over the years.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.