Moonlight Buttress

Written by Ethan Pringle. Photos by Francois Lebeau. 

Trying to onsight Moonlight Buttress had been a goal on my bucket list for years. It’s one of those routes you see pictures of and think, “WOW”! Linking over a thousand feet of exposed, flawless finger-cracks, it’s seen thousands of ascents, both free and aid, but only a dozen or two onsights. But in all those years, I’d never made it a priority. Slowly, Moonlight fell into the category of classic climbs that I would eventually get around to doing—someday. But when? After spending years working on my crack climbing skills in places like Yosemite, Joshua Tree and the Front Range of Colorado, I felt like I was more than ready. But even though I knew I had a good shot, sandstone splitters are a huge weakness of mine. No matter the outcome, I knew trying it would be a challenge.

In the winter of 2018, I was approached my Mountain Hardwear about an idea for a video project centered around a multi-pitch or big-wall objective. As spring grew nearer, the filmmakers secured permits to shoot in Zion, on Moonlight Buttress. I was finally being forced to climb this fabled, world-class trad-climb, for work! Ugh, my job is hard! All I needed was a capable, psyched partner.

The first person to come to mind was my friend Tiffany Hensley. A fellow Californian, Tiffany was someone I’d known for over 10 years on the competition circuit, but hadn’t ever shared a rope with. In the comps, she crushed with the best. After retiring from competition climbing and spending some time on the road, Tiffany had taken a seasonal position in Mexico, introducing at-risk youth from the outskirts of Monterey to climbing for a non-profit called Escalado Fronteras. She’s got a big heart, a calm demeanor, a great sense of humor, and a penchant for suffering with ease. She would be the perfect partner for a grueling, all-day multi-pitch climb.

Plans were made, and dates were set. Thoughts about Moonlight began to build in my imagination.

I picked Tiffany up at the airport in Los Angeles, in mid April. We drove towards Zion, catching up on life, telling stories, and laughing the whole way. We stopped in Vegas to give our asses a rest (and for some very interesting people-watching), then pushed on to a friend’s house in St George.

We had a couple days before our scheduled attempt at Moonlight, and wanted to take a lap on something a little easier to get our heads in the trad-climbing game, dial in our systems, and maximize our time at this bountiful destination. We decided on the Zion classic Shune’s Butress, a 5.11- recommended to us a dozen times over by friends and people on Mountain Project.

We caught the bus into Zion Canyon early the next the morning. Surrounded by tourists, our dirty, gear-filled backpacks and duct-taped-patched puffy jackets earned us some curious looks, but our focus was elsewhere. Outside the windows of the bus towered grey, green, and orange walls, leaning gently toward us like sentries lit by the early-morning sun. I hadn’t visited Zion since I was a kid, and now I mind-climbed every featured face or crack system I saw. I was so glued to the scenery that the bus driver had to keep reminding me, over the intercom, to get out of the stairwell. Cue more curious looks from the tourists.

I led up Shune’s, trying to stay calm on the slick sandstone. Three pitches up, I went to battle with the 5.10 off-width crux. I lost purchase mid-grovel, thought about the one #4 camalot between me and bodily harm, and down-climbed slowly out of the flared bomb-bay, back into the chimney. I stood on a small ledge and regrouped. I got through it on my second attempt, but it wasn’t pretty. I tried so hard on that pitch, I felt throttled and dehydrated afterward. I’d sent 5.14 with less effort. If 5.10 felt that hard, how would the 5.12 pitches on Moonlight feel?

After four more long pitches, we stood on top of Shune’s, broken but smiling. Our avocado, cheese, and veggie sandwiches had turned into giant gobs of something seemingly inedible, but we scarfed them down anyway before starting the rappels. I was pretty worried that the beating my body had just taken would still be with me two days from now, when we were scheduled to attempt Moonlight. At least I wouldn’t have to worry about my partner. Tiffany was fast and skillful, and we’d had nothing but fun together.

Sure enough, it felt like a train had hit me when I woke up the next morning. My feet and toes throbbed, and my shoulders felt like they’d been knifed. But we had permits, and a schedule to stick to. I would be ok.

The alarm goes off at 4:30am. We stagger down the stairs of our hotel, and pile into a rented mini-van with the film crew. At the parking lot, we put on headlamps, shoulder our packs, and walk towards the river. It’s dark. I still haven’t seen this part of the canyon, or laid eyes on Moonlight Buttress during the daytime. Contrary to the name of the route, it’s a moonless night, and I can barely tell where the wall ends and the sky begins.

Tiffany and I rack up, tape our hands, and say goodbye to most of the members of the team, who we’ll be reunited with on top. At last, we are climbing Moonlight Buttress! There seems to be a breeze in the air, assuaging some of my fear of the brutally high temps we’d seen on the weather forecast.

We blast up the first couple of easier pitches to the bolted, 5.11 traverse. The rock on the traverse is bullet hard, with engaging movement on patina edges. Tiffany follows cleanly, with little effort. After that pitch, the climb goes straight up to the “rocker-blocker”: a ledge literally bolted onto the wall and connected with two short chains. Despite that, it still rocks gently. Here, the harder climbing begins.

By now, the sun is on us, but it’s not nearly as oppressive as we’d feared. On lead, I jump off the rocker-blocker and snag an edge just out of reach. The next move is probably the hardest on the route: a rock-over move to a far-away crimp. I stick it and mantle up into the dihedral, slow my breath, and start lay-backing the 160’ long corner that’s purported to be one of the hardest pitches.

Fortunately, there are plenty of rests, and very few bad holds. It seems as though all the traffic over the years has hollowed out the finger-locks, making them deeper and juggier. I climb my way to the top of the epic corner, milking each rest and trying to conserve as much energy as I can for the thinner, more sustained sections. When I finally clip into the belay, I’m psyched to have gotten one crux out of the way.

So far, the climbing has been really enjoyable, and gone down without too much struggle. But just above is the pitch I’m most intimidated by: the notorious “flared corner”. After that, three more 5.12 splitter pitches guard the summit. Still plenty of chances to fall, but having the long corner behind me gives me some confidence.

I start up the flared section, surprised at how much weight I can give my feet. I shuffle up the corner until it flares so much I have to start power lie-backing: one foot almost at the same height as my hands, the other one lower, rand-smearing.

I climb with as much control as I can, locking off every move in between the deepest breaths I can muster, and trying to stay as calm as possible. The pump starts to increase, but I find little stances to relax into. With this technique of resting my way up it, I finish another pitch. Tiffany dispatches the pitch on top-rope, and we decide to take a little rest, and wait for the wall to go fully into the shade.

Thankfully, this ledge is wide enough to lay our backs flat on, and stick our legs up the wall above. I call this, “legs up the wall”, or in this case, “legs up the big-wall”. It feels amazingly restful.

I put away the first of the three splitter, 5.12 finger cracks, and belay Tiffany up to another ledge. The beginning of the following pitch looks much harder: a very thin crack, with no face-relief. My toes are killing me, but I dig deep, keep my feet high, and shmampus (smear-campus) through tight finger-locks for 15 feet, before the crack widens a little and some footholds appear on the face. I finish the pitch, and allow myself to celebrate a little.

We’ve made it so far at this point, I’m confident I can handle the last remaining 5.12 pitch: a corner that turns into a spider-web of vertical and horizontal cracks, then continues up one last steep splitter section to the anchor. We are way off the ground, and this beautiful pitch turns out to be as fun as it is striking. I climb so relaxed, in fact, that one of my feet slips off the wall near the top. It’s a heart-fluttering moment for the film crew, who’s just feet away, but my other three limbs are secure enough that I don’t fall.

The whole crew waits on top with cameras, like paparazzi. We exchange hugs and high-fives, food and water, smiles and laughs, and tons of photos. The view is breathtaking, the exhaustion satisfying. It dawns on me: I’ve on-sighted Moonlight Buttress! I feel a mixture of pride, and relief. Eventually, we pack up and leave. Surrounded by tourists descending from Angels Landing, I stomp down the trail, marveling at the majesty of Zion, on cloud nine.

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Inside the 2019 USA Climbing Combined Invitational


What to know about this format and what’s ahead—with a word from the champ and Mountain Hardwear athlete Kyra Condie

All photos by Jon Glassberg / Louder Than 11

Every competition is a show of strength and strategy—not every competition has this much at stake. For those who competed in the 2019 USA Climbing Combined Invitational in Salt Lake City, it wasn’t just about a trophy or a title, a win meant—for some—a dream realized: a spot on the USA Climbing team and a continued journey leading to a ticket to Tokyo. But it wasn’t just the prize that threw athletes into the pressure cooker…

While most competitions present an opportunity for competitors to play into their strengths to succeed, this international format combines three disciplines of climbing into one competition: speed, bouldering, and sport. And for many, it’s their first time training extensively in one or more of these categories. Failure in just one could mean performing in none on the highest world stage.

To help break this event down to the basics, we turned to Jon Glassberg, a Mountain Hardwear athlete and owner of Louder Than 11 (LT11), a broadcasting and media production company that creates film and photo content in challenging environments around the world. Since 2008, LT11 has partnered with USA Climbing to provide photo and video services at events all the way up to live broadcasts. Their crew was on the scene again this year, capturing all the best moments.

“Probably the most interesting event from an analytical perspective—since it is the least studied in U.S. competition—is speed,” Jon explains. It’s the only event that puts two athletes head-to-head, competing on a standardized 15-meter wall with identical routes. Time matters, but beating your opponent matters more.

“We know bouldering and we know lead climbing, but speed is an outlier that creates an interesting challenge for most competitive combined athletes,” Jon says. “Typically, you need to be solid at two out of three events and decent enough to be middle of the pack in the third—meaning speed is likely the weakest event for most combined athletes.”

It may be new to the equation, but it holds just as much weight. Which is why most contenders are training speed as much as they can to slowly cut away at their average time. For men, a 6- to 7-second time is competitive. (The current world record is set at 5.48 seconds.) Likewise, women are shooting for a 10- to 11-second time (with a world record set at 7.32 seconds). And if you’ve ever gone to the climbing gym and tried getting to the top of a 50-foot wall as fast as you could, it may take you 30 seconds or more—these athletes make it look more like a track and field event.

But since the competition is all about general placement and less about winning each event, the goal for lead and bouldering qualification rounds is to make finals and place in the top six. For the lead qualification round, competitors have two routes, flash format, with a minimum of 20 minutes rest between routes. Bouldering is on-sight format for the qualification round with five boulders per gender. If an athlete is consistently placing in the top six in each round of competition, they have a good shot at winning the overall combined.

After all of the athletes make it through the rounds and qualify for the combined final round, competitors are faced with a back-to-back style event—starting with speed, then bouldering, and ending with lead—that showcases overall mastery of the sport. Speed finals is a knockout bracket style, bouldering consists of three boulders with four minutes per boulder, and lead is a single route with six minutes maximum time allotted. In other words: it’s not a lot of time to recharge. Especially given that the style switch-up is drastic.

“After two intense days of qualification, athletes are tired, skin is thin, and mental strength is drained,” Jon points out. “Only the best overall competitors will perform at a high enough level to win, and it’s usually obvious who has what it takes.”

At the end of the day, Mountain Hardwear athlete Kyra Condie was one of those competitors. By earning the top spot in her division, she secured the first of four spots on the women’s combined national team.

Kyra brought her dynamic style to every stage of the competition and looked as strong as ever—but believe it or not, the night before the final round of the competition, she hardly got any sleep. “I kept picturing my first speed race in the final and it would get my adrenaline going, so I was lying in bed at three in the morning with my heart racing,” she remembers. “I ended up trying to use that time to visualize success instead of failure, which I think helped calm my nerves during the competition.”

“Winning this competition was a huge validation in my training and hard work that I’ve been putting into this format the last year/few months,” Kyra says. “I wasn’t sure if I was finding the right balance between sport climbing, bouldering, and speed to be prepared enough in all three disciplines, so it’s really great to feel like I’ve been doing it right. I don’t have a coach telling me what to do for training, so it’s really important for me to see that it’s working.

“It’s also a huge relief leading into planning for my 2019 season. Before the competition, I knew I was planning—and hoping—to do the 2019 World Cup circuit, but I still had to qualify to be on the USA Climbing National Team. By winning this event, I prequalified myself to be able to go to all of the World Cup events this year for the U.S.”

Following the Combined Invitational, Kyra competed in Bouldering Nationals, where she placed in the top 10. Next up, she’ll participate in the sport climbing and speed climbing Open National Championships on March 8-9. These are also qualifying events to be on the national team, but since she already solidified a spot, she says she will treat these competitions as practice for the upcoming World Cup season.

Keep up with the rest of our athletes’ competition season by following @mountainhardwear on Instagram and sign up for e-mail updates to be the first to know when a new blog post is out!

The post Inside the 2019 USA Climbing Combined Invitational appeared first on Mountain Hardwear.

Same Mountain, New Eyes


Written by Whitney Bolland. All photos by Alex Buisse.

In one sense, Vivian Bruchez’s passion for big mountain skiing is no surprise. Bruchez, youngest of three, was born and raised by ski instructors amongst the steep mountains of the Chamonix Valley. His family’s story is entwined in the area’s history—they have inhabited the area since 1678. By three years old, Bruchez had joined his parents and two siblings on the slopes (all of whom still work in the ski industry as instructor or guides). By four, he had joined the competitive circuit, eventually competing in alpine skiing, ski cross, and freeriding.

Exposure/2™ Collection | Vivian Bruchez in Chamonix from Mountain Hardwear on Vimeo.

Yet while Chamonix produces many talented skiers and climbers, Bruchez’s drive, motivation and vision are rare—and grew with time. Though competition framed his early skiing years, freedom was what drew him to the mountains. When Bruchez stopped competing at the age of 20, he shifted his focus to the high peaks. “Living in Chamonix, I came very naturally to the steep skiing passion,” says Bruchez. “When you live in Chamonix, there is always steep lines, and the mountains around you shape your vision of skiing. So that’s why, when I began to climb in the mountains, I thought: ok, where I can climb, I can ski. That’s the way.”

He took inspiration from other strong, resilient athletes, like the late Marco Siffredi, who made the first snowboard descent of a 1,000-meter line down the 55-degree slopes of Nant Blanc in 1999, which Bruchuz would later descend. “I remember he was young and had blonde long hair and rode very fast with his snowboard,” says Bruchez.

One of his greatest inspirations is Kilian Jornet Burgada, the prolific, titled pro runner and ski mountaineer who has won many of the most Herculean ultramarathons in the world. “He’s a very human person and I learned many things with this guy,” says Bruchez.

The first time they opened a new ski line together was in 2012, when they made the first ski descent without rappels on the Migot Spur on the Aiguille de Chardonnet. After that line, something shifted for Bruchez.

“From this point on, I focused on the vision to open new lines,” says Bruchez. “[Kilian] was, and is, a strong inspiration.”

To open a first descent in a range as storied as Chamonix’s takes a special kind of creativity. While some saw the well-traveled peaks of the Mont Blanc Massif as having few remaining un-skied lines—a museum in the making—Bruchez’s had a different vision, one that blurred the boundaries of how skiing could be defined—and that only fresh eyes and untamed stoke could create.

“I don’t like to read the topo, I want to choose my own line,” says Bruchez. “If everyone wants to go to the left, I want to the right. The mountains are a big space for freedom. You can leave something there, something very big.”

His creativity and fresh perspective allowed him to combine his passions and skill sets the way a painter blends colors. “Steep skiing is a big balance between skiing and alpinism. For me, they are my two big passion, and the perfect mix, the perfect balance.”Out of this vision, he produced an impressive list of descents in 2018, all completed without rappels. In April 2018, Bruchez, Jean Baptiste Charlet, and Jonathan Charlet made the first ski and snowboard descent on a new line cutting across the northwest face of the Mont Blanc’s Aiguille du Dru—a 60° ribbon of snow with breathtaking exposure. This started a spree of descents culminating in the 1100-meter, 50-55 degree face of Nant Blanc in the Mont Blanc massif in June with fellow mountain guide Paul Bonhomme—a line that joined previously skied sections through a ribbon of technical dry skiing among exposed rock.

While toeing the edge between skiing and solo climbing are part of his craft, danger and fear are not. Close calls, including one near-miss with icefall on the Dru, have instilled in Bruchez a more measured approach. While new lines in Chamonix are part of his goal, he also has a desire for balance, to share all types of skiing with friends, and to always return to his growing family in the evening.

“I think this is the most important thing for me. That’s why I really love climbing in the Alps,” says Bruchez. “We have easy access to the mountains. Thanks to the big resorts, you can go up during the day and at the end you are at home with the family. That’s the real life.” This year he finished building a house in the Valley with his parents where he and his partner Marie now live with their 15-month-old daughter, Albane.

“When you are up there [in the mountains], you play. You can realize some of your dreams, and they are all very intense, but when you come back to your family, that’s another part of the life. Living in the Alps gives to you this feeling.” With a young family, staying close to home is his focus for now. “In a few years we will see about returning to the big, big mountains in the Himalayas,” says Bruchez.

This balance of extremes creates a certain gravity, a weight to his endeavors that pulls him back to the valley floor. Here, humility balances his lofty goals in the alpine. As the coach for the ski team where he himself trained as a child, he’s helping raise the next generation of skiers: a full circle back to his roots. Now, Bruchez captures the emotion of his endeavors by writing, a source of inspiration for him.

“When I write about the different lines I did, I write who is giving me the idea and who skied before—that is really important. It gives to you the inspiration, it gives to you certain amount of humility. That is really important in the mountain. You are not alone in the mountain. You are not the first to stand on top…It’s good to tell who did it before, but also to tell that there are still good things to do. To find your line—To find my line.”

The post Same Mountain, New Eyes appeared first on Mountain Hardwear.

Correcting #Climbers Back: 3 #Exercises!! How…

Correcting #Climbers Back: 3 #Exercises!!

How to #Prevent / Correct / Fix Climbers Back with 3 Simple Exercises, that can be made progressively harder to suit a Broad Spectrum of #thletes.

Correcting #Climbers Back: 3 #Exercises!! How…

Correcting #Climbers Back: 3 #Exercises!!

How to #Prevent / Correct / Fix Climbers Back with 3 Simple Exercises, that can be made progressively harder to suit a Broad Spectrum of #thletes.