11 @ .11

A good 5.11, but not in the Cascades...
The 11 best 5.11s in the Cascades:


Wiregate Carabiner Review

Does size matter? This question, historically the domain of trashy women's magazines, is now relevant to the ever-evolving climbing gear industry—in particular, rapidly shrinking carabiners.
A carabiner in the hand is worth... roughly $7.95. FS Mini on right.


Don't be a Tool

I occasionally write little reviews of products for Alpinist, which is good writing practice, and also allows me to own or borrow some new gear. Typically, big items like tents are loaned out, and smaller items are given to the review for use, and to keep afterward.

The Alpinist editor who contacts companies and sets up the reviews was recently confronted with the following response from a company's PR folks after specifying an item or two for the review:

  "Obviously, giving away equipment and then receiving a low rating wouldn't be much appreciated"


As Mitch Hedberg would say... "You've got no faith in the product itself."

If you aren't willing to allow for an honest review of your gear, don't let it be reviewed. To agree to a review with a guilt-laden caveat that the reviewer "owes" a good review is total bullshit.


On Edge

The Naked Edge is the best rock climbing route in Eldorado Canyon, and hence the entire Colorado "Front Range". It has been free soloed, it's been ascended by a blind climber, and 'The Edge' has seen its share of memorable moments. I'll certainly never forget my first time on it (a little over a year ago) and I don't think anyone else would either. This morning, my friend Scott Bennett and I climbed the route (round trip from the bridge over Boulder Creek) in 1 hour and 13 minutes, belaying the whole route.

The start of the Naked Edge is roughly 300' above the ground. We scrambled a low-5th-class ramp, I took a belay climbing through the Cave (5.8) and then began to lead.

I linked pitch 1 (5.11-) and pitch 2 (5.10), though I was nearly blown off the wall near the top of this section, after pulling around the prow of the arete into 50+ MPH wind gusts. I had to re-tighten my helmet in light of wind gusts that seemed able to dislodge it from my head. Eldorado Canyon functions as giant wind funnel, and the Naked Edge forms one of the two prows which project out into the canyon from either side. On a day when local weather stations recorded 55 MPH gusts and dust was blown into our faces while racking up in the parking lot, Scott and I chose to literally hang our asses out from "the edge" and into the gusts.

Scott followed quickly, and set off up P3, which is a rambling 5.8 section along the crest. We couldn't hear each other at all with the wind blowing, but when he started yarding in rope, I took him off and was soon following this pitch.

From a sheltered alcove on the lee side of the arete, Scott took the lead for a link of the final 2 pitches, both 5.11-.

Pulling over the top and running to the belay tree, I was immediately aware of the relative calm, a highly-welcome surprise in light of our necessary downclimb of the East slabs. Scott raced by me on the slab downclimb, but offered some key routefinding info to prevent any more off-route-adventures. We checked our cel-phone timer and high-fived at the bridge. The wind kept blowing.

Nuts and Bolts:

1x Blue Alien
1x green alien
1x yellow/green hybrid
1x yellow alien
1x #1 Camalot
1x #2 Camalot

5 dyneema draws and 5 dyneema runners, 2 wiregates on each

One GriGri, one ATC (hangable) and one 45m chunk of 9.5mm rope


One of these things...

... is not like the other.

And it was after 4 glasses of $95-a-bottle wine that I had this point driven home to me yet again, this time by the crunching sound coming from my pocket. But let me start properly...
Pulling rope for our 4th trip down the Vertigo Rappels



Cold Comfort and Ultralight Rappels

Make full-length rappels with a chopped and re-tied rope. And stay warm enough to rig up all those rappels without your fingers going numb. Or just forget climbing altogether and perfect the beer stash.


Fall Photos

I just returned from Indian Creek and the Castle Valley, fortunate enough to witness those two spots after the season's first snow on the peaks above. The week before, I hosted my friend Forest for a few days, and most of the shots here are Forest's, from our trip to the South Platte's Wigwam Dome.

This  week Scott and I met our friend Garrett in Indian Creek, where we climbed for a day at Way Rambo wall (Scott's ringlock skills earned points for onsighting the crag's hardest route, Slice and Dice, while I earned a solitary point for the subsequent TR flash). We all then headed to the Scarface wall, where I lead some fun routes I hadn't tried before, onsighting The Cleaner and Desert Vuarnet (more points) and Garrett got revenge on the classic 'Scarface'. Scott worked 'Death of a Cowboy' (or vice versa) and Garrett made good on his promise to tackle the sustained wideness of Big Guy.

Following this, Scott and I headed to the Castle Valley, where we hoped to link up Castleton Tower, The Rectory, The Priest, Sister Superior, and The Convent in one day. We wanted to start on the North side of the ridge, and walk/climb our way South. The second plan was to start on the South and work North. However, without being able to bring bicycles (I rode the Amtrak home) and without meeting any climbers to help out in a car shuttle, we resorted to starting and ending at one spot and traversing the whole ridge twice.
The Convent (L) and Sister Superior, from beneath The Priest

By 7am we found ourselves atop the ridge, and I began the first pitch of Fine Jade as the sun's rays first hit the Rectory. Temperatures in the parking lot (1000' lower and much less windy) had been well below freezing at night, and my hands were instantly numb. After barely making it through the first pitch without feeling below the wrists, I had the worst episode of screaming barfies that I can remember. I was shouting so much that Scott thought something was seriously wrong with me (well... something new) and he offered to self-belay the pitch if I'd fix the rope.

The instant and seemingly-irrepressible urge to vomit my instant oatmeal/instant coffee breakfast all over the cliff did slowly pass, and I brought Scott up so that he too could have a bout of the 'barfies'.

Garrett on Way Rambo... not the Convent
We quickly finished off the last two pitches on the Rectory, rapped down, and began hiking North. Two or three tedious hours of running/sliding/falling/scrambling along the ridge past Sister Superior Tower had brought us to The Convent, but we only had a vague idea about the location of our intended route, the Power of Audacity. We eventually ID'ed the climb, with Scott this time leading the first and third pitch, while I got the mellower p2. The route was good, but not great, with a tough 5.11+++ first pitch roof flare. The final "5.8 chimney" reminded me of the last pitch of the West Face of Colchuck Balanced Rock, in that 5.8 chimneying was a euphemism for something far more sinister.

After 3 rappels (only one of them off a legit anchor), we high-tailed it back to Sister Superior, where we found that our remaining water, jacket, long-sleeve shirt, and camera tripod had been taken, presumably by a group who day-tripped to this one tower and didn't know we were heading back to it. Crestfallen and tired, we had quick tour up Jah Man before we again found ourselves trudging along the crest's constantly-eroding terrain.

With every footstep slide out from beneath us, it felt as though we were being chased by gravity, and only through continuous forward movement would be prevent being pulled down the hill in either direction. The trick was to sprint between 'islands of security', which could have taken the form of plants, large rocks, or any other rare object that offered temporary stability.

Scott and I seriously contemplated the no-water and no-windbreaker headlamp-ed attempts of The Priest and Castleton, but eventually decided to head down the ridge to camp and re-hydration.


Red Rock Retrospective

I spent about 2 weeks in Red Rock Nevada during this Spring, enjoying the gracious hospitality of my friends Julie and Viren Perumal, and climbing obscure routes in the park with some friends and photographer Garrett Grove.

Check out our article in the November 2010 issue or Rock&Ice Magazine, or read an extended rough draft below. And see some shots at the bottom of the page for an upcoming article we hope to do as well.



My friend Scott made a great little video about our climb of Astro Dog, the first time we'd been to the South Rim of the Gunnison River Canyon.


Brought to you by...

Coke, Office Depot and the U.S. Army... how could I ever drive cars without you?

Lots of folks who write various personal climbing blogs put small logos and ads on the side of their blog, as a way to publicize the companies that give them gear. That might make sense for Chris Sharma and Sterling (AKA the 'Right Rope for Chris!) because Sharma's well-enough known to the new climbers of the world that some of those climbers really might think he sends 5.15 only because his new 9.4 is a Sterling, and not a Mammut or Beal or whatever. However, for lesser known climbers, and less climbing-relating products, the efficacy of such ads is far more questionable.

Does it really make sense to buy sunglasses from Julbo, or Native, because someone with an online climbing blog, even a fairly decent boulderer, gets these sunglasses free and wears them? Does the average climber know the first thing about sunglasses, lenses, UV light, or anything else that would legitimize their endorsement of a given brand of shades? I don't think so. If you collect sponsorships like action figures, then you've obviously got to fit some company into the "eyewear" logo slot on your blog, but I don't think it makes sense for the companies' return on investment. My assumption is that wholesale on sunglasses must be incredibly cheap, otherwise these companies wouldn't keep giving them out without much in return. And if you're advertising for sunglasses on your climbing blog because you really think that it is going to bring customers to that company, I'd hope you are mistaken as well.

But in homage to these less-than-ideal sponsorship situations, I was inspired to compose a summary of 3 sponsorships that are important to me:

The free Wendy's burger boasts an enviable amount of food value.

  1. Wendy's - On the back of every single Wendy's receipt is a form in which one can phone into the 1-800 number, take a short automated survey, and get a 5-digit alpha-numeric code for a free $3.50 burger. It's easy to collect a handful of receipts upon visiting a single Wendy's, these places are ubiquitous, most of the time when I ask they let me get other menu items that total less than $3.50, and the creative among us may realize that there is no way for the Wendy's employee to validate that one's code wasn't made up 30 seconds earlier in the parking lot.
  2. Chase Bank - Chase is always offering all kinds of great things like $150 for opening a no-fees account, and 25,000 miles (AKA free round trip ticket) for starting a new checking account. With no closing fees, it's pretty darn easy to take a free climbing trip once a year by repeating this simple process each 12 months. "...thanks to Chase bank for supporting this expedition."
  3.  US Mint - There are many credit cards that offer a certain small percentage back, in cash, on all purchases. These usually don't amount to very much, especially for the thrifty low spenders. However, the US Mint sells money! You can buy dollar coins, for $1 each, in boxes of $250. Buy a few of these, take them to the bank on your way to go climbing, and you've just made $50 or $60 bucks for a day on the rock, just by swinging into the bank and paying back your credit card purchase -- with the very thing you purchased! Let's see Native Eyewear try to match that.
And to prove I occasionally do real work for money,  you can read an article I wrote about Jens Holsten in the current (Autumn 2010) issue of Alpinist Magazine, and an additional short piece on my experiences working with the magazine.


    Who the Hell?

    There were 3 separate visits to this webpage (all on Sept 6th) directed via Google after someone had searched "Who The Hell is Blake Herrington".

    Sometimes I wonder the same thing...

    I was in the Black Canyon with Scott Bennett for 3 days last week:

    Day 1 - Scenic Cruise (3 pitches) into "The Dylan Wall" (now free at 5.12a) and we decided against a boiling-hot continuation via 'Twisted' so we finished on Journey Home and still got fried.

    Day 2 - We climbed the Checkerboard Wall (morning shade), then went down to the river and swam, had lunch, and waited for more shade on other aspects. A couple of the key pitons are gone from Checkerboard Wall (including the only piece after the post-crux runout) so it's a little more serious than the guidebook describes and also would host a few more routefinding conundrums if you spend time searching for now-vanished pins.

     Scott insisted we had to climb the Scenic Cruise because he "sure as hell wasn't going to walk up that gully." So we began the Scenic Cruise at 2:45 and finished the route in just under 5 hours, early enough to enjoy another lovely sunset from the overlook at 7:45.

    Day 3 - We surrendered to the sun and hid on one of the North-facing walls. We climbed all the right-side variations to Comic Relief. This is a stellar ~6 pitch route, and with all the possible variations, you can climb "Comic Relief" twice, but really only climb one pitch the same. All the right-hand options are harder, but still nothing too rough. Halfway up this route, we detoured onto the 5.11+ crack pitch of Perfect Art, which Scott onsighted. There's an anchor atop this pitch, and it's a very worthy mid-route distraction from Comic Relief.

    The other memorable facet of the trip was our booty count. We ended up with about 6 or 7 stoppers, a new C3 cam, 2 quickdraws, a couple other carabiners, and a pair of 5.10 Guide Tennies with quite a bit of life left in them. Hauling the extra pair of shoes up from the base of the canyon was a little annoying, especially since they clearly fit Scott's feet and not mine, but I suppose we could feel good about ourselves for reducing litter in the national park.


    Wed. 9/8 - Golden, CO

    Come out Sept 8 for some movies and stories from 2 trips to the Coast Range of Alaska and B.C. as well as some photographs and video of a new route done this summer in Rocky Mountain National Park. Climbing from ~5:00-7:30 beforehand at Wall of the '90s, and then Happy Hour across the street to follow.


    The Stikine Story

    It is said that true adventure begins when things start to go wrong. Or at least not-as-planned. By this measure, if none other, Nate and I did little besides adventuring on our trip. The Coast Range created cruxes that our months of training had done little to train us for. And the ability to climb the scariest M-whatever, or jam the most painful ringlock did little good when we were getting swept downstream by rivers, or nervously dodging the grizzly whose tracks we'd followed all morning. It also didn't help us when trying to build ourselves a pair of boots...

    Does this look mountain-worthy to you?

    Lots of Fluff

    If you're like me and get annoyed by endlessly positive, vague, and "fluffy" reviews of products, Alpinist has the answer. It has relaunched the Mountain Standards reviews. I am writing a few  (a couple done, a couple on the way) and there's absolutely no pressure to write anything slanted positive or negative about the gear. I am happy to actually see some bad reviews being written. I was surprised to see the Osprey pack get 5/5 stars (zippers have no place on a climbing pack, and look at all those clips and buckles!)

    Maybe I'm just naturally cantankerous, but I gave 2/5 on my first review, and expect to see more reviews where folks are honest and understandably critical in their assessments. The Mountain Standards blog also accepts suggestions for products to review and potential new reviewers, should anyone have an idea or be interested.

    If only I could review food and get some endless free samples. Snickers vs Toblerone, Sharkies vs Gummy Bears, après-climb beer from Great Divide vs  après-climb beer from Boundary Bay, dried apricots with glacier gravel vs dried cranberries with glacier gravel. The possibilities are endless...


    Tempest Tamed

    A couple summers ago, my friend Sol Wertkin and I climbed the 2nd route on the peak "Colchuck Balanced Rock" in the Central Cascades. The area was our "good weather" bail option, after the west side of the mountains was engulfed in a storm. However, the storm reached across the range and we ended up climbing through intermittent precip and winds on our route. We named this climb "The Tempest", and we couldn't believe how good the rock was, and how continuous the cracks were. Although we aided much of the route, its potential as a stellar freeclimb struck us as obvious.Occasionally, it's nice to be right.


    The Sublime...

    I spent 3 days this week having a BLAST in in the local alpine environments. Short approaches, no bugs, minimal brush, no glaciers, and perfect stone. If I try really hard, I can almost convince myself that psuedo-alpine climbing is more fun than the real thing! We shot laser beams, and we did some stellar routes as well.


    Stikine Select

    I just returned to Colorado from a 2 week vacation to the Coast Range, climbing with my friend Nate Farr. We were on the British Columbia side of the Alaska/Canada border, about 50 miles East of Petersburg, AK and in an area that had likely been visited by just two climbing groups, one in 1967 and one in 2003. We managed to complete 2 new routes, got shut down by 'rock' quality on Mt. Ambition, and had an amazing trip. I'm busy back at work in Denver, but will be writing about the numerous non-climbing cruxes and unforeseen challenges we faced. We built a pair of boots, and had a very 'creative' food menu due to an aerial food drop that turned into more of a carpet-bombing mission.

    In the mean time, here are a few photos from our excursion. Thanks a million to the American Alpine Club and the Mazamas climbing club of Portland for the grant money which help fund our expedition.


    New Route in Rocky

    Checking in from the North Pacific Seaplane base of Tattoga Lake, British Columbia, I have to post a cool video my friend Graham Zimmerman crafted about our new route, established last week, on the Northwest Face of Chiefshead Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park. This wall is notorious for tough routefinding and long runouts. We were happy to do the line ground-up, onsight, and without the need for bolts. I've found that not owning a drill or knowing how to use one has significantly reduced the time spent bolting on new routes.  There's potential for a couple excellent variations, so check out Graham's video and get on it!


    Tuesdays in the Park

    July 20th was my fifth consecutive Tuesday spent in Rocky Mountain National Park going climbing on the high peaks. Two weeks ago, I climbed Birds of Fire on the Chiefshead Mountain, which is a fantastic route, but follows a mostly bolt-protected line. Last week Scott Bennett and I climbed the Diamond face on Long's Peak (my first time on the mountain) and carried our sleeping bags over to Glacier Gorge, where we bivied at the base of Spearhead Mountain. The following day we did all but one pitch of Stone Monkey on Spearhead, before a hail storm scared us off. And in my trips to this beautiful little cirque, I noticed an appealing line of corners and cracks on Chiefshead, just left of our line of ascent. When I found out that the line was apparently unclimbed, I was determined to give it a go before leaving for Mt. Ambition on 7/25...



    Solstice Day 4.1

    I went back to Rocky Mountain Nat. Park this week with Scott Bennett, intent on trying to cram even more climbing into a car-to-car outing. We planned to climb 5 spires in two different valleys. Here's my amateur attempt at a video of our day.

    Tower Day from Blake Herrington on Vimeo.

    Nuts and Bolts:

    1x 70m 9.7mm rope
    2x approach shoes
    1x light axe and aluminum pons (did not need)
    1x set wires
    1.5x set cams to #3
    1x long sleeve, wind shirt, and toque
    ~15 hours round trip
    Zowie is an adventure


    Solstice Day 4.0

    ( Check out our follow-up to this: The Inaugural 5-tower day!)

    Three years ago, my friend Darin Berdinka got me up at some ungodly hour of the morning (night) and we drove from Bellingham to Darrington, WA for the 3.5 hour approach to our linkup of Roan Wall and Salish Peak. The day was unforgettable, and I distinctly remember looking at my watch at 9:30AM, 700' above the valley floor, realizing that my friends and roommates were sitting in class or just waking up, while I was in an entirely different world.

    Since then, I've done a big day around the solstice, and this year was the 4th in-a-row.

    This year, Josh Thompson and I climbed the Sabre Spire, the Petit Gripon, and the Sharkstooth, all in Rocky Mountain National Park. These spires are shown above. Excellent weather and perfect rock made the day a blast.

    Long days always present a planning and logistical challenge, especially when dealing with some snow, and carrying all of one's gear up and over a route.

    I went fully Jens-Holsten-style backpackless, with the 70m rope worn as a pack, and my harness (waist loop only) worn from the car. This method has been perfected by my friends Jens and Sol Wertkin for their single-day Stuart Range linkups, and it lets the leader climb packless, which is oh-so nice. For a day like this it was the way to go. Big pockets for snacks and a stocking cap for warmth certainly helped.

    People have been climbing on these spires for a LONG time, as evidenced by the copious amounts of archaic fixed gear.

    Random tip of the day:
    When you have to clip shoes or a jacket onto your harness for a hike, or the climb, clip them in through the middle of the shoes, not the end. This will prevent them from swinging back and forth, or hanging down to low, and keeps them in closer to your body for climbing.

    Here's Josh negotiating yet another rapidly-melting descent gully.


    10 @ .10

    Ah 5.10, the iconic grade of so many stellar climbs. The level was once considered impossible, and is now the namesake for a brand of footwear. 5.10 is attainable to the motivated weekend climber, but attention-getting and serious enough to inspire even the most dedicated. Routes at this grade in the mountains are 'the real deal.'

    With summer around the corner, it's time to fill out the alpine tick list. So in no particular order, here's my personal list of the 10 best 5.10 routes in the Cascades.


    Black Canyon

    In the last couple weeks I've made two trips to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, climbing with some great folks. The older routes there have very soft commitment grades, but newer ones seem more in-line with reality.

    First off was Trilogy with Jason Nelson. The route has 100 meters of low-5th climbing, then 5 plumb-line pitches of solid climbing from 5.10 to 5.12-, then a long pitch of mid-5th class to the canyon rim. We hauled a small bag, which was actually a fun way to do the route. It allowed us to have lots of extra clothes, no shoes on our harness, good food, and it was a vertical plumb line, so the hauls were easy.

    Route Beta: The 'R' rated climbing on p1 is a traverse out to the arete. It involves some up-and-down shenanigans and wouldn't be too great to fall off for the leader or the second climber. However, it's probably 5.10-. The 5.11+ crux has bolts much closer by. The long crack on p2 is sustained 5.11, without any real definite crux. On P4 I hung in the flaking pegmatite crack below the bolt. The 5.12- crux is weird. We found the section up-to and past the bolt, to be easier than the start of the pitch. The pro is good either way, but I think the crux might be before the bolt.

    Take a double set to #3, and one #4.

    Jason on p1 arete - Weird angle, the haul line at right is pointing straight down.

    Stemming out some cool moves on the start of p3 of Trilogy

    With Nate Farr, I climbed Atlantis (fairly graded a grade IV). We found the day fun and long, but the route wasn't quite as high-quality as we'd hoped. It's not on par with the Scenic Cruise. However, running out of water on p8 (of 16) when the whole route is in the sun probably fried our brains a little.

    The Atlantis Topo, courtesy of my friend Evan Stevens. If only our hand-drawn reproduction of this hand-drawn copy had looked so good after 16 pitches in-an-out of a sweaty pocket.

    I'd suggest 1x blue alien, then 2x gear from green alien to #3 camalot, then 1x new #4 camalot. You can get buy with only 1 #2 ans #3 camalot, but it makes belays slower and more creative, so probably not worth the trade-off.

    Nate on Atlantis:

    Nate and I also climbed Journey Home. Journey's a great ~.10a climb for someone who is really confident on the grade. The first pitch has some major leg-breaking ledge fall potential, with the hardest moves right off the ledge boulder. A yellow alien placed in an arch up-and-right can partially mitigate the danger here. The subsequent 4 pitches were well-protected and excellent. We bootied a "fixed" nut from the route (sans nut tool) that I traded for dinner. Major dirtbag points. Bring one #4 for the OW on the last true pitch. It's worth having.

    Finally, we hooked up with my friend Neil Kauffman from Patagonia for the climb "Escape Artist". Nate led the middle of the climb in one 280' pitch, so we did the route in 4 pitches with some scrambling afterward.

    Last pitch on Escape Artist


    Drifting Away...

    Glancing through Red Rock’s newest guidebook, one notices first ascent information from the 1970s, but few similar details for the park’s newest classics. Officially “anonymous” first ascents are now the norm. And we were keen to learn if these secrecy-inspired shenanigans were worth the trouble. A towering fin of white stone separates the Pine Creek and Juniper Creek drainages. Jason Killgore, Scott Bennett, Garrett Grove and I walked the crest single-file, comparing echoes down either side, and staring ahead at the Jet Stream Wall. Lacking the requisite skill, ambition, and four #00 TCUs for the sandbagged crux of Jet Stream (600’ 5.12c, AKA .13- "abstract stemming"), we set sights on Drifting (500’ 5.11c), a plumb line of patina edges, discontinuous seams, and illegally-drilled bolts.

    Intricate face climbing and thin cracks typify the climb, and the easiest pitch of the route is an .11a which surmounts the wall's unmistakable arching roof. But it's not all "clipping bolts on the beach." Bring your gear skills for this one, especially on pitch #2, where an off-the-bat .11c crux leads to 120 feet of continuously intricate cracks, thin seams, and heady traverses. Unlike Levitation 29, Time’s Up, and older nearby routes, topping out on Drifting wont leave the bittersweet taste of bolted cracks in your mouth.

    Pics Copyright Garrett Grove