Movement – Joe’s Valley, UT

Today marks my 15th day in Joe’s Valley, and boy has it flown by. The past two weeks seem one giant blur of conversations involving the same few people; breakfasts, lunches, and dinners made up of the same few ingredients; and climb after climb on boulder after boulder. Each day here has been a blast, and yet I can think of little to talk about apart from the details connected to individual rock climbs. A topic that stands out is the movement provided by the climbing here. I love climbing for a number of varied reasons: the problem solving, the exercise and hard work, the time spent in nature; yet none of these reasons match the joy I find in the elegance and creativity of the movement. Climbing can be an art form: movements dictated by nature are interpreted by climbers and turned into dance. As such, the unique rock formations found in sandstone provide some of the most creative movements I have ever experienced.

Every climber is unique in a number of ways: height, weight, proportions, strengths, weaknesses, etc. Because of this most climbs and movements are interpreted in a number of ways. Sometimes the common method for a climb just doesn’t work for a particular body type, and it is up to the individuals with that body type to find their own innovative solutions. My friend Joel Sheppard is chalk full of these ‘innovative solutions’. While no two of his solutions are the same, they all manage to involve some sort of shenanigans that fall WAY outside-the-box. I’ve taken to calling it, ‘The Joel Method’. Examples of The Joel Method include: spinning around and attempting climbs backwards, hip and ass scumming, ridiculously high heal-hooks, and (my personal favorite) 360 windmill dismounts. Its been fascinating climbing with the guy simply because I get to see what he can come up with!

Warmin’ up sloth-style on ‘Kill by Numbers’ V5
PHOTOS: Joel Sheppard

Mr. Sheppard demonstrates a bit of The Joel Method on ‘The Walrus’ V5

The harder climbs here in Joe’s, more than at most areas I’ve climbed, seem to lend themselves to particular body sizes and specialized climbing styles. This became remarkably apparent last Tuesday. After warming up Joel and I returned to a problem we had both tried a few days prior called Kinda Brawny V8. The climb found me extended to my absolute limits trying to reach holds while maintaining a key foot, and shut me down repeatedly with little hope of progress. After dialing in the individual moves, Joel looked completely at home on the thing and managed a brilliant ascent. I was too short, he fit it perfectly.

After a lunch break we set to work on a wacky cave problem called Tubesnake Boogie V9. The climb starts recessed in a cramped cave, and climbs a tufa through near horizontal terrain for 8-9 moves before exiting. Another 5-6 moves bring you to a good rest where you can recover and get your head together for the daunting highball finish. Our fortunes were reversed this time. I was able to put it together rather quickly, my shorter stature moving unhindered through the cave, but Joel was just too long. No matter what he tried, inevitably some hand or foot movement would send his ass or shoulders to the ground. He was too long, I fit it perfectly.

This trend continued on another pair of climbs over the next few days. Joel did one of the area’s classics, They Call Him Jordan V8, using a fun and efficient method, while I struggled and eventually gave up, finding I had to add a move that made the climb much less enjoyable. Again the reverse happened on the incredible and oddly named G2-07  V7. This time I found a very fun method and eventually, with headlamp on and fingers near bleeding, made my way to the top, ecstatic. Joel found my solution too scrunchy, and soon gave it up realizing his most promising option was a low-percentage dead point to a razor-sharp slot. While initially frustrating, I enjoy finding these types of climbs. After realizing a line just isn’t for you, you can let it go and switch into support mode and do everything you can to support your buddy. It always seems to come full circle anyhow.

Joel proves he’s ‘Kinda Brawny’ V8

The mystifying rock formation of ‘Tubesnake Boogie’ V9

On Thursday Joel and I teamed up with Tanner and his buddy Kenyan for what we dubbed ‘Highball Day’. We pooled our crash pads and threw ourselves at a few of the tallest, proudest, and scariest boulder problems that Joe’s Valley has to offer. One that stood out to me was The Wind Below, a thin and technical V7 that stands tall at approximately 25 feet, with a high crux that sent me cratering from the top two or three times. Joel captured a series of shots that really show off the movement on this one. The holds, the moves, the height, the commitment needed, the absolute beauty of the streaked sandstone: all of this makes the climb stand out among my all-time favorites. Thanks for the encouragement and for keeping me safe guys!

Parking for climbers!

Gearing up for ‘Highball Day’!

Formulating a plan before another attempt at ‘The Wind Below’ V7
PHOTOS: Joel Sheppard

Stabbing for the gaston mono pocket: one of the strangest moves I have ever done.

The brilliant and committing finish. Scaaary!

After that one we made our way to Anti-future Plan V8 and spent what remained of the day battling increasing humidity. Joel pulled it off before the rain and I found my vengeance a couple days later with fresh skin and better conditions. Rain rolled in Thursday night and stuck around the following day, forcing us to rest and take refuge. As it turns out sitting at the computer for hours on end is a horrible idea after spending an entire afternoon and evening cratering from the top of 25-foot boulders. Saturday found us looking like a bunch of broken down, enfeebled geezers; griping about our aching backs and stiffness.

The Food Ranch: Orangeville’s unsuspecting climber haven.

Joel and Tanner pass a rainy day in the ol’ Spartan Den.

On Sunday Joel and I made our way out to the New Joe’s area to take care of some unfinished business. Joel planned to head out that evening and wanted to finish Planet of the Apes V7. He ended up going on a tare and not only finished that one, but also took down Chips and Pocket Rocket, both at the same grade. Its always fun to send your friends off on such a positive note.

Today is a rest day and has me cooped up and ‘plugged back in’ at the Castle Dale Library. I plan to get out climbing for a full day tomorrow, and to wake up early for a morning session before hitting the road Wednesday afternoon. Then it’s back home to Washington! I look forward to seeing many of you very soon.

“Wanna go fer a ride?”

Remnants of an old coal mine out at New Joe’s.

The approach to New Joe’s.

An old coal mine and the reason the road extends far enough to access this great clump of boulders.

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