Mastering the Rifle Trifecta

Another destination, another style of climbing. Tom and I arrived in Rifle, Colorado in the last week of May. After five weeks in the Red River Gorge, we were psyched for a new style of climbing, new routes, and a change of scenery. We got all of that and more.

Rifle is the classic hardman’s sport climbing crag in America. Climbers travel from all over the world to come and test their strength, endurance, and technique on the tricky, polished limestone in the canyon. I have come to the conclusion that climbing in Rifle is defined by three things: AKA The Rifle Trifecta

1. Polished Rock

2. Cryptic Beta

3. Stiff Grades

All three of these aspects hit me hard on my first day in Rifle. I lowered down from each route complaining of the slippery footholds, how hard everything felt and how impossible the routes were to read. My confidence in my climbing abilities, which were quite high after a successful trip to the RRG, took quite the hit. That nasty little negative gremlin re-entered my head whispering, “You really aren’t that good, look you can barely get up a 5.11 here, you better just pack up and leave”

The Negative Gremlin, inspiring self-doubt and poor self-esteem in humans since puberty. Don’t listen to him, he’s just angry cause he’s green

However, despite a real reality check in the first few days in Rifle, I resolved to stay and to learn and grow as a climber. I believe that the best climbers are those who are able to adapt to and succeed in a variety of styles by developing and relying on a vast amount of techniques and strengths. The switch over between the RRG and Rifle really highlighted to me that I have a lot to work on. By working on adapting to different styles, I know I will become a better climber, although the immediate results may not always show. For example, take a look at grades. I was expecting to pick up where I left off in the Red. Get on some hard 5.13 projects right away here in Rifle. Wrong! I had to back it up and work on the style here. That means back to 5.12s. And man the 5.12s here are HARD!

Despite getting my behind and my ego completely kicked, I am finding that I am enjoying Rifle more and more. The beta is complete trickery, and it can take multiple burns on a route to just figure out what the heck you’re supposed to do, but I’m getting better at being patient and not getting upset when I can’t figure out a move. Spotting the locals and snagging beta is also a great way to save a few beta burns. Another aspect about Rifle that gets my psych high is the sheer number of female climbers crushing here. Any given day, you’re bound to watch a girl crush hard on a 5.13 or 5.14 project. I love it!

Heather Robinson working the knee bar rests on The Gayness (5.13d) at the Project Wall. So wicked to watch!
The Rifle crew at the Project Wall. You can belay 5.14 right out of your car!

So after the initial Rifle training period and acceptance of the Rifle Trifecta, Tom and I were both psyched when we sent our first 5.13. Vision Thing (5.13b) is a bit of a boulder problem on a rope with a huge no hands rest (yippee!) and a wicked 5.12c roof finish. I was psyched to get a few happy snaps of Tom as well!

Tom milking the double knee bar before the crux
The upside down heel-hook/Rose move to exit the crux on Vision Thing (8a)

After two weeks in Rifle, I found that I was feeling a bit burnt out. I ended each day feeling completely done, despite only climbing a couple pitches. I had picked a new project, a route called Sometimes Always (5.13c) on the Project Wall. The line inspired me, with clean limestone leading into a long V-shaped stemming crux. The guidebook mentioned that my hero, Yuji Hirayama, had onsighted the route. It shouldn’t be too cryptic if it was onsighted, I thought. Wrong! Yuji is an onsight master. I am not. After three attempts on the route, I was no closer to figuring out the complex stemming crux. Feeling frustrated, my spirits were lifted a little when Rifle crusher Jen Vennon (Check out a video of her climbing 7 P.M Show here) told me she couldn’t figure out the crux either. Phew, I’m not a complete wuss. Yet, I still felt tired and unmotivated.

My motivation hit a low when Tom and I found out that a friend we had recently made in the Red had died after a rock fall accident in Yosemite. We were both hit really hard by the reality of how dangerous climbing can be, and how a bright young promising man had been taken away from this world. We didn’t know him long, but we felt he had been a close friend. May his sweet soul rest in peace.

Looking for an escape, Tom and I headed to Castle Valley, Utah. One of Tom’s goals for the trip was to climb a desert tower. So, despite desert climbing being completely out of season and it being 100 degrees in the desert sun, we picked an attainable objective. Jah Man, a 5 pitch 5.10c crack climb, was one that we were both psyched on. Sitting on the West face of Sister Superior, Jah Man sat in the shade in the morning. Perfect! We woke up at 4am, were hiking by 5:30 and started climbing the route at 7:30. It was perfect temps, and the scenery was absolutely stunning.

All smiles, even through the chimney! Photo: Tom Wright


The route itself was incredible. Nothing too hard, perfect rock, and unique pitches. I even had fun in the chimney pitch, wow!

Being a goof! Photo: Tom Wright
Happy summit photo! Photo: Tom Wright

After a brutal hike out in the sun, we headed to Mill Creek for an evening and afternoon. Beautiful rock! Next time, I would love to get a tour from a local. With limited info, Tom and I managed to pull off a bouldery 5.12c called Scavenger before taking off back to Colorado.

Tom Tom heading down the sketchy ladder to Mill Creek
Beautiful rock at Mill Creek
Beautiful view of the La Sal mountains
The past and present. Heading down from Mill Creek

Before heading back to Rifle, we made one more quick side trip to Vail, CO to watch the Boulder World Cup that is held during the Mountain Games. My sister, Stacey, had made a last minute decision to come, so Tom and I were psyched to rest for a few days and get our cheer on! Stacey had an impressive competition, making the semi-final round with fellow Canadian Elise Sethna. She ended up in 19th place after a stupidly hard semi-final round. So proud of my big sis!

Stacey competing for Team Canada
Stacey and our favourite Aussie, Tiffany, on problems 3 and 2 (respectively) in the qualifying round
Team Canada (minus 2) loud and proud

The diversion from dirt bag living (Stacey let us have a shower in her hotel room!) was welcome, but after a few days of yuppies and puppies in Vail, we were ready to head back to Rifle. We even stole Stacey away for a couple of days before she had to head home!

Stacey trying the Rifle classic Hang ‘Em High (5.12c)

The break has done my psych wonders. I feel renewed and eager to complete some hard routes before our time here in Rifle comes to a close. Yesterday was the perfect example. After only 3 tries of working out beta and sequences, I surprised myself by sending Apocalypse ’05, the extension to Apocalypse ’95. I was so so so happy when I stuck the last crux moves before the anchor! Wow! The guidebook gives this route a 5.13b, calling it stout for the grade. Rumour has it that the new guidebook gives it a 13c. I would be happy to take the 13c grade, but I will leave it at a stiff 13b. It is Rifle we are talking about here!

Duck tape and knee pads. Rifle essentials.
Photo: Stacey Weldon
Sending Apocalypse ’05
Photo: Jen Olson
A sea of limestone. On my way to the top of Apocalypse ’05!
Photo: Jen Olson

Either way, I’m stoked and psyched! Here’s to living each day to the fullest, playing it safe and pushing your standards.

Deep blue skies, sunshine and the rig. Life doesn’t get much better
Thumbs up for Rifle
Jen Olson working out the cryptic crux on the stunning Eighth Day (5.13a/d)
Jason on Extended Family (5.12b) at the Ruckman Cave.
Jon attempting The Beast with Two Backs (5.13a)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *