“You Can’t Just Run a 24-Hour Race On the Fly!”

It was a recent Tuesday, and I was contemplating my training runs for the weekend ahead. I had options. There are always options … so many good options when you have some time. (This applies to my daily life, but today we will focus on running). I settled on what may sound like the least reasonable-sounding option to most – I could pay $28 and spend 24 hours running around a .82 mile loop at around 7300 feet in Palmer Lake, Colo., at a race called the “24 Hours of Palmer Lake Fun Run.” I like when I convince myself something sounds fun and I believe it no matter what anyone else says or thinks. I signed up the next day, on a Wednesday, and started contemplating the possibility of attempting my first 100-mile distance three days later.

“Why?” so many asked.

I usually answer that question (in any context) with: “Why not?!”

I wish that I could fashion a micro story about each of the 85 loops I completed. Instead, here are my thoughts on various topics that mattered to me when I was running a 24-hour race on the fly.

Sleep Deprivation: I am going to be running for close to 30 hours for the Leadville 100 in four short months, so let the sleep deprivation training begin! The only problem here was that I was already sleep deprived going into the race, so it really was going to be an exercise in sleep deprivation on top of sleep deprivation.

Strategy: “You can’t just run a 24-hour race on the fly!” – said to me by a more experienced ultra-runner that I trust. It all depends on what “on the fly” means, I suppose. I had very little strategy going in, though I did receive the go-ahead from my running coach. I certainly wasn’t trained for a 100-miler, or even a 70-miler. I drove there on my own, was expecting a few visitors throughout the day, and that was that. I do have determination and flexibility and an ability to work things out when I need to, though, so those things become my strategy. Also, how much strategy do you need when you’re going to be passing your camp every .82 miles? As it turned out, quite a bit! But, I survived.

Sustenance: I knew I would be sleep deprived. Nothing some Red Bull and chocolate-covered espresso beans couldn’t assist with, right? I am pretty sure that I thought Red Bull was reserved for some nasty vodka drink at some late night club…but this just underscores my feelings of disgust at what was in my grocery cart in preparation for the race. For those that don’t know me, I am typically a very healthy eater all of the time, and very disciplined in this way. I kept thinking, “How many bananas and Chia Squeezes can I eat during the race to balance this all out?” Luckily for me, despite all the sugary and caffeinated aids in my shopping cart, my nutrition kept up with me for the entire race, a first!

Shifting Interactions: I love shifting interactions. This is also something you should know about me. As when you are on a vacation with several people and you have no idea what you will be doing with whom at any given time. I LOVE this. So, think 85 loops around Palmer Lake and each loop being like a mini-vacation with new runners, new spectators, new conversations, and new ideas to ponder. Believe me, this is NOT boring or monotonous.

Socializing: This may be my downfall generally, and specifically was at this race. I get really excited when I see my friends, and I immediately want to stop whatever I am doing and head into a full-blown conversation. First, my friend Andrea arrived and walked a few loops with me. That helped me get out of a minor negative head space. (Thank you Andrea!) Then my friend Mark arrived, and although he tried to talk me into more running, I was also too excited and all I wanted to do was chit-chat. I know I need to work on this.

(the) Suck: There really was only one time that I can recall where I thought to myself, “This might suck.” That was when I looked at the clock and said “Oh great, only 14 more hours to go!”

Saviors: Otherwise known as friends and family and crew members. And at Palmer Lake, also the lady making grilled cheese at 2 a.m. In this instance, I had many race saviors, despite my cluelessness in not really planning for a crew. I received many texts and messages from people who were checking in on me and sending encouraging words, including a text at 1:30 a.m. from a friend traveling in Japan. He rightly pointed out that most people were sleeping while I was running loops, and it was extra fun to know someone else I knew was awake in another part of the world! Everyone’s timing was right on, and I was reminded of all the people that support my running goals and shenanigans. Thanks to all who checked in!

Some special thanks are in order. First, my friend Mark had committed to coming out there after running his own 50 kilometer run that morning to help me get through some night miles. I was really looking forward to this. Although the original plan was sidetracked by an injury, which would have been a perfectly acceptable reason to bail, Mark still drove out there, brought me a burrito, walked/ran several loops with me and dealt expertly with my overexcited, incessant chatter. (I promise I’ll change my ways for Leadville, Mark!)

Second, my friend Dave spontaneously became my overnight crew and this was nothing short of amazing. Dave was planning on coming out around noon to hang out and bring some of his homemade cookies and fruit. At some point in time, Dave figured out I was on my own for the night and decided he would stay to help me through. He also decided to run his own 50k! Needless to say, I am not sure I could have accomplished what I did without Dave’s overnight help. I just couldn’t believe it, and when I kept thanking him, he said something to the effect of, “I like to volunteer and help our running community just like you like to do pro bono (legal work).” I am still overwhelmed at how awesome that was. Both Mark and Dave were already lined up to be part of my Leadville pacing/crewing team, and again, needless to say, I am stoked about this.

Sleep Deprivation (Again): A long time ago I bought a Volvo station wagon. You know, a good family car. If someone would have told me in 2006 that in 2017 I would be so psyched to sleep in the back of this car for 30 minutes in the middle of a 24 hour race, I may have said something like “You never know what’s going to happen!” or I may have just said something like, “Whatever, you weirdo!”. However, I fit perfectly in the back of this car and it was oh so warm in there. I took two 30 minute naps during the night. Each time Dave knocked on the window and shined a flashlight in my face to wake me up, I popped up, got out of the car and said “Ok, let’s go do more laps!” (maybe it wasn’t really an exclamation). Best unanticipated running purchase ever!

Solidarity– All those people running around that lake – we were all in it together. All those people that showed up that day to bring food, to heckle, to entertain (think semi-drunk guys blasting 80s music in the dark with a bottle of Fireball with a huge spotlight), to push their friends – all those people were in it together with us. Enough said.

Strength/Stubbornness: I remember my spontaneous crew member Dave telling me at some point, “You’re really stronger than you think.” It is always hard to understand that in the moment, when you’re struggling along, but it must be true. As for stubbornness – I had planned on being stubborn that day, and I don’t think I actually ever was. I think I was pretty stubborn for the first half of my life – I might be all out of stubbornness! That trait never really served me well anyway.

Sunrise: As for most, sunrises typically signal the beginning of the day to me, a time when I am waking up and anticipating the amazing day ahead. I catch many a sunrise while running. Here, the sunrise at Palmer Lake signified the opposite – the end of the race, the end of the day’s journey, and close to the time I could go home. It was just as meaningful. It was fun to see the people who had chosen to sleep through the night show up on the course again to fit in some more laps. I wonder what I looked like to the all of the well-rested people that morning!

Success: I decided to stop early at 70 miles. I could have completed another loop, but I wasn’t so interested in a 70.82 mile finish. Seventy miles seemed sufficient.

Seventy injury-free miles, a participation award, and so much fun! Thanks to all, and a special thanks to the race directors who provided the opportunity (and to my family who let me be useless for a few days after the race). I am one lucky person to get to have such an incredible experience.

Ilene Bloom is an evolving ultrarunner, mother and lawyer who lives in Denver. She is excited to do a few more overnight runs this summer in preparation for the Leadville 100 in August. If you have any questions or comments about this post, Ilene can be reached at ilenebloom@hotmail.com

 

Megan Finnesy, Trail Running for a Cause 

Megan Finnesy, race director of the Dirty 30 in Golden, Colorado, aligns altruism and altitude by raising money for a nonprofit

by Holly Graubins, Trail Runner Magazine

Race director Megan Finnesy, 47, of Durango, Colorado, is equal parts benevolent and bodacious. She spent three long years working toward an event permit for an ultra trail race in the rugged San Juan Mountains. Through her perseverance, she finally received the permit for the Double Dirty 30 in Silverton, Colorado, held last September. While working through copious race details with forest rangers, she also dreamed of raising money for her favorite non-profit organization, Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Southwest Colorado.

Her leap to race directing was premeditated. “I wanted to be an event coordinator, but couldn’t find a job because I didn’t have any experience,” she recalls. But her love of mountainous singletrack and knack for juggling miniscule details guided her.

Now, she’s the director of the popular Dirty 30 (50K and 12-miler) in Golden, Colorado, currently in its eighth year. The Dirty 30 is known for long, steep climbs, fast descents and rocky scrambles, and features special awards (“Bloodiest Finisher”) and live music at the finish line.

“I love this race. The course is brutal, but it’s also gorgeous and super well marked,” says Boulder athlete Sarah Black, a 2015 finisher. “[Megan] is wonderfully organized and that is reflected in the event, with its great support, and wonderful volunteers.”

Finnesy attributes much of her life path to her college friend Dale Garland, the long-time race director of the legendary Hardrock 100-Mile Endurance Run. Back in 2008, Finnesy managed Hardrock’s Cunningham aid station, and has since paced runners, captained other aid stations and once even donned a coconut bikini top and floral lei at the Chapman aid station to boost the morale of spaghetti-legged runners.

“Dale has been my main mentor as a race director,” says Finnesy. “I admire and respect him, as managing Hardrock is epic.”

“When I first got into this run-organizing thing, I relied on Merilee O’Neal [the former RD at Leadville] to mentor me,” says Garland. “So I look at it as paying it forward when Megan asks for advice or help. Now, Megan is one of the most energetic and conscientious young RDs we have in our sport.”

Boulder-born and raised, Finnesy had a soulful connection to nature from a young age, climbing 13,916-foot Mount Meeker at age 12. In the ensuing years, her diverse outdoor interests included running for hours in the Colorado mountains. In 2008 she tackled Colorado’s multi-day, point-to-point Trans Rockies Race, which ignited her ultrarunning passion. Trim and muscular with blonde hair styled into a tidy ponytail, she has blue eyes that twinkle behind dainty eyeglasses, giving her a scholarly yet athletic look.

It’s not just miles and race logistics that Finnesy pursues. “Giving back to our communities is essential,” she says. She once mentored a young girl from BBBS, and fondly remembers taking her “little” up Engineer Mountain, “a very technical trail most adults won’t tackle.”

Double Dirty 30 runners are asked to either do trail work on the course or fund raise for BBBS. In this year’s inaugural race, 33 runners raised a combined $13,000 for the organization. Says Anita Carpenter, the executive director of BBBS, “All of the funds raised have gone directly into one-to-one mentoring. BBBS is serving a new elementary school this year and that’s thanks to Megan’s runners.”

Source: Megan Finnesy, Trail Running for a Cause | Trail Runner Magazine

Ski Mountaineering Has Its Ups and Downs – WSJ

Kaitlyn Archambault’s ski mountaineering gear includes lightweight La Sportiva RSR carbon skis with low-tech ATK bindings; adjustable poles; lightweight Dynafit pack; helmet; lightweight Dynafit PDG boot, that buckle into ‘walk’ or ‘ski’ mode; buffs; warm hat; a lightweight layer to wear while skinning uphill; gloves for skinning; goggles; skins; water bottle; down mittens; ski strap; headband. PHOTO: TRENT BONA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

by Jen Murphy, The Wall Street Journal 

Skiing up a mountain might seem … counterintuitive. But people always on the lookout for a new fitness challenge may want to skip the ski lift and earn their downhill run by “skinning” uphill first.

Kaitlyn Archambault was introduced to ski mountaineering, also known as “skimo,” when she moved to Crested Butte, Colo., last year. It involves skiing both downhill and uphill. Skiers attach a pair of fabric strips called skins to the bottoms of their skis for traction on the trip up.

“People talked about going skinning like they were going to spin class,” says Ms. Archambault, a 32-year-old paralegal at Huckstep Law, LLC. “It’s a very foreign concept if you don’t live in a mountain town.”

Ms. Archambault is a longtime downhill skier, and after attending a ski-mountaineering camp, she decided to train for the Gore-Tex Grand Traverse. The ski-mountaineering race takes place March 25 and 26, starting at midnight in Crested Butte. The 40-mile traverse with 7,800 feet of vertical gain reaches its finish in Aspen. It requires at least 10 hours of uphill and downhill motion and is done in teams of two. “My boyfriend bravely signed on with me,” she says.

Ms. Archambault used to be a runner but suffered iliotibial (IT) band pain after she ran a marathon in 2011. “Ski mountaineering gives me the same cardio rush as running, but it’s lower impact,” she says. Being in the back country—on unpatrolled, ungroomed terrain—surrounded by nature, away from the crowds, is what appeals to her most.

“It’s very meditative to be outside in the fresh air taking in unbelievable views,” she says. Recently, she says, she and her boyfriend, Zach Guy, director of the Crested Butte Avalanche Center, were out for eight hours. “It’s the best thing in the world to be in the wilderness, powering yourself across the mountain.”

Ms. Archambault says major components of ski mountaineering are learning the basics of back country avalanche safety, as well as how to layer and fuel properly. The transition from uphill to downhill takes practice. “Some people can just kick a foot up, rip the skin off the bottom of their skis and then be zooming downhill,” she says. “When I need to put my skins on or off, I use it as a chance to catch my breath.”

Training has given her extra incentive to get in a workout during the winter months, Ms. Archambault says. “When you leave work at 5 and it’s dark out, all you want to do is go home. But once I get up on the mountain under the stars with my headlamp, I completely decompress. It’s a great way to end the day.”

The Workout
Ms. Archambault skins two to three evenings during the week. After work, she usually heads to Crested Butte Mountain Resort and aims to go uphill for 45 to 60 minutes before skiing down. “The slopes are groomed and safe,” she says. “I go up with a headlamp. It’s cold, but once you get moving it’s invigorating.” On weekends she goes for longer back country tours, anywhere from four to eight hours, with Mr. Guy.

Ms. Archambault on the downhill portion of a workout. When she does training intervals on the uphill, she says, ‘it’s like hell for me, like an hour-long, redlining, anaerobic nightmare. But I go into a different mind-set and push myself harder.’ PHOTO: TRENT BONA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Some days she brings her dog and skins up a trail through the woods on Snodgrass Mountain. On many Tuesday nights, she meets a group of women who do an uphill interval workout on skis. “It’s like hell for me, like an hour-long, redlining, anaerobic nightmare,” Ms. Archambault says. “But I go into a different mind-set and push myself harder.”

Two mornings a week she rides 45 minutes on a bike trainer, and once a week she pops in a yoga DVD. “I’m not good at stretching, but my body feels the difference and thanks me when I do yoga,” she says.

Gear & Cost
Ms. Archambault says ski mountaineering isn’t a cheap sport to get into. Alpine touring skis can range from $600 to $1,300 and tech bindings cost between $300 and $800. She uses Lightweight La Sportiva RSR carbon skis with low-tech ATK Bindings. She looks for deals on a gear-swap Facebook page. Skins range from $100 to $250, and poles from $75 to $200. She says superlight race Alpine touring boots can cost up to $2,000, but you can find them on Craigslist for $400.

“If I was paying $200 a month for a gym membership, it would probably cost more in the long run,” she says. “This is, for the most part, a one-time investment on the main gear.”

She wears a Lululemon Swiftly Tech long-sleeve base layer, which retails for $68. “I generally pooh-pooh spending a lot of money on a shirt, but staying warm is worth the extra cost,” she says. On top of that she wears a Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody, which costs $149. Her Aether Apparel ski pants retail for $375, and her shell, $695. She usually wears two buffs, one around her neck and another as a headband/ear cover.

The Diet
Ms. Archambault tries to make scrambled eggs for breakfast but often runs out the door with peanut butter on toast. She packs a salad topped with cottage cheese, apples, pears and feta or goat cheese for lunch, and keeps nuts at her desk for snacking. She always has piece of dark chocolate in the afternoon. Dinner is salmon with couscous and broccoli, or a curry over quinoa. Her boyfriend, races mountain bikes in the summer. “He has an incentive to eat well, and that rubs off on me,” she says. Her ski pack is full of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Honey Stinger energy chews, trail mix with extra M&Ms, a thermos of tea and another with soup. “After a long day out on the mountain, all I crave is a good beer,” she says.

The Playlist
“When I skin at night, I love the silence and solitude,” she says. If she skins during the day, or rides the bike trainer, the songs that get her going include “Next Episode” by Dr. Dre, “Dancing on My Own” by Robyn and “Dangerous” by the Ying Yang Twins. “If one of those three songs comes on I get a second wind,” she says.

Write to Jen Murphy at workout@wsj.com

Source: Ski Mountaineering Has Its Ups and Downs – WSJ

Body of Missing Climber Found on Longs Peak | Colorado News | US News

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, Colo. (AP) — The body of a climber missing on Longs Peak has been found.

Rocky Mountain National Park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson says the body of the 39-year-old man from Thornton was discovered by searchers on Sunday and flown down by helicopter.

He was mountaineering with two acquaintances on Saturday when he reportedly decided to descend the challenging and popular mountain by himself. When they returned to the trailhead’s parking lot later in the day they saw the man’s car was still there.

At 14,259 feet, Longs Peak is the highest mountain in the park and the 15th highest in the state.

Source: Body of Missing Climber Found on Longs Peak | Colorado News | US News

Joel Gratz Knows More About Snow Than Anyone | Outside Online

“I may not be perfect all the time, but my audience realizes that they are better off overall because of what I do for them.”

by Michael Behar, Outside Magazine

Joel Gratz is making me nervous. It’s midmorning on a snowy Colorado day in March, and we’re riding the Sun Up triple chair in Vail’s Back Bowls. Gratz has scooched his butt to the very edge of the seat, and now he’s thrashing his right arm to and fro, determined to capture a few flakes with his mittened fist. Whenever Gratz talks about the weather – snow especially – the 31-year-old meteorologist can forget where he is, speaking in a nonstop stream. “I usually just tune it out,” says his girlfriend, Lauren Alweis, who is skiing with us.

“These flakes are pretty sweet!” Gratz shouts. “And look at the way they’re falling – from northwest to southeast. That’s good! But the moisture layer is thin.”

Gratz, a lifelong skier who lives in Boulder, loves nailing a forecast, and today he did just that, having predicted that Vail would get nearly a foot of new snow. To prove it to the tens of thousands of people who follow his powder forecasts—posted daily on his website, OpenSnow.com—he whips out his iPhone and snaps pictures of freshly covered glades that he’ll upload later. Gratz also has a ruler affixed to a ski pole; ten minutes earlier, he jammed it into the snowpack and photographed that, too. “A week ago I said today would be a very good day,” he says. “It turned out that it was. That’s pretty cool from a weather standpoint.”

Gratz is what weather buffs like me call a microscale forecaster, which means he focuses on a particular kind of weather event (in his case, snowfall) for an audience that is particularly interested (skiers and snowboarders). He got started five years ago, frustrated by his inability to find the tailored forecasts he craved. “I was livid whenever I missed a powder day,” he tells me. “Nobody could forecast them, so I started doing it myself.”

What eventually became OpenSnow started with an e-mail to 38 friends, sent on December 17, 2007, which said: “You’re on this list because you know there’s nothing better than the feeling of skiing in deep, untracked powder!” Gratz’s first advisory predicted dumps at various Colorado resorts, including Vail, Aspen, and Steamboat. “Friday could be a great day to play hooky,” he wrote. A buddy pinged back, “You are a great man! People will sing songs about you.”

Today, OpenSnow, which went live in 2010, attracts a million unique visitors a year, including 1,600 members who pay up to $45 annually to receive customized powder alerts by e-mail and time-lapse video feeds from the slopes at 24 Colorado resorts. OpenSnow has also expanded to cover Lake Tahoe, New England, Utah, and portions of the mid-Atlantic. Each region gets its own forecaster, handpicked by Gratz for both weather knowledge and powder addiction.
OpenSnow is one of several newfangled websites offering such fine-tuned information, on everything from surf conditions to wind speeds for kiteboarders to the likelihood that thunderstorms will drench your mountain-bike ride. These sites exist because they meet a demand that government weather agencies aren’t filling.

“Government forecasts don’t focus on the recreational side of weather—the fun side,” Gratz points out. The sole mission of the National Weather Service (NWS) is to protect lives and property. For this reason, its winter forecasts often cover hundreds of square miles and are intended mainly to scare drivers off the roads during snowstorms. OpenSnow targets people who want to put themselves in the crosshairs of a blizzard.

Prior to one snowstorm last March, Gratz projected different snow totals for Copper Mountain and Vail, even though the two resorts are only 12 miles apart. The NWS, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), would never bother with such a distinction. After the front rolled through, Copper had amassed only two inches, while Vail got nine – a difference Gratz saw coming. A spread like that is momentous to a skier or boarder.

“It’s fun to forecast in Colorado, but holy shit, is it hard,” Gratz says. It helps, he says, that “I’ve got a little bit of OCD in me. But without wanting that powder day myself, I would never have the motivation to do all this work.”

ONLY RECENTLY has weather forecasting become a high-tech business. Back in the 1950s, the NWS refused to issue tornado warnings because the science was notoriously inaccurate. Mike Smith, a senior vice president for AccuWeather, a Pennsylvania company that produces made-to-order forecasts for some 175,000 industry and government clients, recalls that even in 1971, when he got his first job at a TV station in Oklahoma City, they still relied on radars that used World War II technology. “It was considered taboo for meteorologists to issue tornado warnings more than a day out,” he says.

Nowadays, thanks to an explosion in satellite data gathering and supercomputer power, it’s possible to forecast more than two weeks in advance. We can also zoom in on areas of a few square miles and make up-to-the-minute spot forecasts. Smith’s team is beta testing a new system called SkyGuard Mobile, an app that continually monitors your location using the GPS in your smartphone and then alerts you when something nasty is coming. “If you’re a trucker, it can warn you if you’re about to drive into an unexpected ice storm,” Smith says. The app would be indispensable to a mountaineer, he says, or a “fisherman out in a boat as a thunderstorm approaches.”

Generally, meteorologists base their forecasts on three major models. Two of them, the Global Forecasting System and the North American Mesoscale Model, are produced in the United States by the NWS. The third, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, is run by an intergovernmental agency in Britain. There’s ongoing debate among weather nerds about which is best and why, but most agree that the Europeans are kicking our butt, chiefly because they’ve invested more in computers.

To feed these models, data is gathered from dozens of sources. There are remote-sensing satellites that can detect minute atmospheric changes – even “seeing” through clouds to measure subtle temperature shifts on the ground. There are also pulse Doppler radars, which visualize storms in four dimensions (spatially and chronologically). Weather balloons and backyard hobbyists all contribute to the data trove, while the Internet and wireless networks facilitate a grand information exchange.

What’s more, thanks to NOAA and a handful of other taxpayer-funded agencies, virtually everything is available for free, online, with just a few mouse clicks. “There’s a huge potential business for people who want to predict recreational weather,” Smith says.

And that’s exactly what Gratz is doing, working full-time as CEO and overseeing a growing operation that started turning a profit during its second season, with nearly 10 percent of its 18,000 registered users signing up for paid extras in the first two months they were offered. In a recent public message to OpenSnow readers, Gratz confided, “I pay about $200 a year for two websites that provide data, but 98 percent of the data I use to make forecasts is freely available … and OpenSnow wouldn’t exist without it.”
ON VALENTINE’S DAY, a week before I skied with Gratz, we met for lunch at a trendy bistro in downtown Boulder called the Kitchen Next Door. The previous month had been dismal for Colorado snow, but that day it was dumping. Our waiter immediately recognized Gratz – he’s been featured in the Denver Post and on local TV – and wanted to know when to expect the next powder day.

“You should take Thursday off,” Gratz told him.

“Gotta work,” the waiter groaned.

“Switch with someone,” Gratz said, sounding quite serious. “Something big is going to happen. Trust me.” Gratz then launched into a discussion of weather-model behavior that went on until the waiter’s eyes glazed over, as did mine. Gratz didn’t notice: he was already busy checking an iPhone app that displayed animated radar images of the day’s blizzard. “Look at this incoming band of snow!” he said, shoving the screen in my face. “The wind direction!” Eventually, he snapped out of it and started telling me how he got into all this.

Gratz was an only child raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and he loved snow as far back as he can remember. He started skiing at four, and when he was ten he began tracking and charting the weather as a hobby. “In high school, I’d check radar on the Internet in the library to see if it was going to snow enough for us to get out of school,” he told me. “Whenever there was snow, I wanted to know how long it would last, was it heavy or light. I was obsessive.”

Gratz went to Penn State – graduating in 2003 with a bachelor’s in meteorology – and then got a summer internship at the NBC TV affiliate in Philadelphia. “I worked with Glenn ‘Hurricane’ Schwartz,” he said. “I did all the background stuff for the forecasts. But when the cameras shut down, I never knew if anyone was listening or making decisions based on what we just did.”

He nixed the idea of pursuing a career as an on-air weatherman, in part because he didn’t want to end up with a starter job in “bumblefuck nowhere.” During his junior year at Penn State, he got involved in an on-the-ground research project with scientists at the University of Oklahoma who were investigating thunderstorm formation. “That was my first chance to actually see the weather developing,” he said. “We drove all over the plains with radar trucks. But I ruled out research, because you’d get all this data and then have to spend years trying to get grants to write code that would forecast the weather.”

Gratz moved to Colorado in 2003 to work under Roger Pielke Jr., a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He earned a master’s and tacked on an MBA. In 2006, just out of grad school, he was hired by Boulder-based ICAT, a provider of catastrophic property insurance, to do risk-modeling analysis.

It was a high-paying job, but he hated cubicle life. He would leave work and immediately head home to geek out on local weather at his computer. “Every night, I would look at some stuff, make notes, and after a storm moved through I would check the snow amounts,” he said. “I was looking at the weather for hours a day.”

He got better at identifying potential snow-makers, which he would deconstruct in weekend forecasts that he e-mailed to friends. His list grew to 500 and included professional big-mountain skier and Aspen resident Chris Davenport, who met Gratz at an event in Boulder and asked to be added. “Once he saw it, he realized it was legit and passed it on,” Gratz told me.

After that things ballooned. Gratz started blogging in late 2008, quit his job, and launched OpenSnow (originally called Colorado Powder Forecast) on a shoestring in 2010. He was joined by meteorologist Andrew Murray, who came from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, where he’d been designing and coding weather-themed websites. Gratz also recruited Bryan Allegretto, who was writing a popular blog featuring powdercasts for the Lake Tahoe area.

“I had no kids, no wife, and a mortgage half covered by a roommate, so I decided to do it, even though I had no business plan and no clue what I was going to do the rest of the year,” Gratz said. But making money and building a company were never his principal goals. “I wanted to feel useful, really useful,” he said.

POWDER FIENDS aren’t the only ones seeking out—and paying for—microscale technology. At his home in Redmond, Washington, Michael Fagin, founder of a forecasting operation called Washington Online Weather, is able to monitor conditions on Mount Everest—comparing six different models—and advise climbing teams who hire him for the service. “I e-mail detailed forecasts directly to the Base Camp manager,” says Fagin. He’ll also speak to climbers by satellite phone if a fast-moving front could put lives at risk.

AccuWeather and WeatherFlow (which tracks wind speeds for kiteboarders, windsurfers, and sailors) refine their services with proprietary models designed to run on off-the-shelf computers. Both companies collect data from several thousand networked weather stations that dispatch regular reports to their central servers. From this data, meteorologists can run simulations in-house and then compare the outcomes to the conventional models.

Gratz has something similar in mind for OpenSnow. He’s developing a model to compute the impact of wind direction and topography on snow totals at various winter resorts in Colorado. “It should be able to tell us that, when Vail gets a northwest flow, they’ll get twice the amount of snow that other models forecast,” he says.

Gratz plans to test-drive his homegrown model in the fall, when forecast season -begins. At the first sign of snow, he’ll make it part of a daily ritual that has gone unchanged since OpenSnow went live in 2010. Every morning before dawn, working in bed in his underwear, Gratz will check the latest global models, view infrared feeds from satellites, examine Doppler images, and peek at the resort and highway webcams. He’ll note variations in barometric pressure and ripples in the jet stream. Sometimes he’ll call or text ski patrollers he knows: firsthand eyes on the hill. The effort can take as much as three hours, at which point he’ll post his prognosis to OpenSnow, usually by nine. On snow days he often files updates.

The process will get faster for Gratz as emerging technologies mature. One such innovation is the High-Resolution Rapid Refresh model, in development at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder. Alexander MacDonald, who directs the lab, is compiling data from at least 30 sources, some never before used to build weather models. “We pioneered having commercial aircraft send us temperatures and wind speeds every hour,” says MacDonald.

Unlike conventional models, which encompass large regions of the country and take hours and even days to generate, the High Resolution Rapid Refresh model is fast and focused. It carves the U.S. into parcels measuring nine square kilometers. Click on a parcel and you get a “nowcast” for what’s going to occur every 15 minutes forward, out to 24 hours.

Not every inch of the U.S. is modeled (yet), but MacDonald was able to walk me through the process of determining air temperature six feet above the ground, at a precise location near Chicago O’Hare International Airport, 12 hours into the future. Eventually, with added computing power, he intends to shrink the parcel size—or “resolution”—to one kilometer. “By January 2015, all you’ll have to do is download an app to your phone,” MacDonald says. “It will always know where you are and what the weather’s going to be like at your location for the next 12 or 18 hours.”

“Nowcasting is likely the future,” Gratz agrees. “Right now I’d classify it as pretty good much of the time, but not great all of the time. When something fails occasionally, it’s hard to trust it.” So for the moment, Gratz is sticking to the tools that have worked for him—and made him something of a celebrity. While we’re at Vail, admirers intercept him in the lift line. “Thank you, Joel!” a woman gushes, confessing that she’d called in sick to the office because of his forecast. “I love you,” another declares.

OF COURSE, GRATZ sometimes fails, a fact he discusses frankly on a part of his site called Keep Me Honest. For several consecutive days in early April, he assured his readers that a monster powder maker was brewing. “Nearly all resorts will see about 5-10 inches from the storm, with about 10-18 inches for areas east of the [Continental] Divide,” he wrote just 48 hours before the impending storm. He added: “The best days to ski deep snow will be Tuesday … it could be very good.”

On Tuesday, April 9 – the day of reckoning – the system fell apart, and only a couple of areas saw flakes. That afternoon, Gratz posted a mea culpa to OpenSnow: “This storm has certainly turned into a pain in the you know what.” Then he provided an exhaustively detailed postmortem, complete with animated satellite imagery, on what went wrong.

“In retrospect, I’m not sure I would have done anything differently,” Gratz told me later. “Colorado is one of the more difficult places to forecast, because it’s got big topography, chaotic topography. You have all these mountain ranges going every direction with no rhyme or reason.”

Occasionally, Gratz gets surly comments from readers. When a storm didn’t materialize in February, an OpenSnow user lashed out in the site’s comments section: “Two days before the storm, he was calling for significant accumulations over the next two days. That didn’t happen. He was wrong about the overall snowfall in the high country over the last five days by a LONGSHOT.” But in the same thread, many defended Gratz. “Since discovering Joel, I’ve found he’s spot on or in the range 95 percent of the time,” one user wrote. “If chasing pow was the equivalent of the Range Game on The Price Is Right, I’d want Joel sitting in the audience telling me what to do.”

Gratz offers this: “I may not be perfect all the time, but my audience realizes that they are better off overall because of what I do for them.” Some clearly more than others. Shortly before Christmas, an admirer, presumably female, submitted a private message to OpenSnow. “There’s nothing better than reading your forecast for pow every morning while I’m laying in bed,” she wrote. “You look pretty cute in your picture. Are you single?”

When I ask if anything still stumps him, Gratz doesn’t hesitate. “Steamboat Springs,” he says. “It’s the last unexplained thing for me in Colorado. I call it the Steamboat Surprise. Every year they’ll get a foot or two overnight when they should have got a few inches and nobody else gets anything close. It has frustrated me for the better part of eight years, and you can’t explain it due to orographics.”

I sense a dissertation coming, so I interrupt. “I know a tree run that rarely gets skied,” I say. “It’ll be untouched.” Suddenly, the other Gratz reappears. “I’m game,” he says. “Show me the way.”

Michael Behar (@michaelbehar) wrote about gene-based endurance research in February 2011.

Source: Joel Gratz Knows More About Snow Than Anyone | Outside Online

On the Road to the Leadville 100 – Approaching Risk and Deflecting Doubt

Life is often lived in hindsight. In the moment of a big decision, it is often hard to fully understand all the factors that go into what you are thinking at the time. And it is nearly impossible to know what the impacts of any given decision will be until it plays out. You can research, plan, and try your best to predict all the possible outcomes. This is what one should do when taking risks. These risks are calculated, and not reckless. But with any big decision, there will be uncertainty and doubt.

I signed up for the Leadville 100 trail run.  Yes, I did this!  I was able to secure a spot in this race by signing up for one of the limited training packages, which also means I am working with a running coach for the first time in my life.  For those who may be unfamiliar, the Leadville 100 trail race entails 100 miles of beautiful, extreme trails in the mountains of Colorado, from elevations of 9,200 to 12,600 feet and a total of more than 18,000 feet of climbing – all in a 30-hour time frame or less. It is one of the absolute classic races of ultra-running. It is hands-down one of the biggest challenges I will be taking on in my running life, if not my life in general, so far. Did I agonize over this decision for days on end before I did this? No, I did not. Did I fail to think this through before I did this? No, I did not.  What I did do was make a conscious decision to approach risk, as opposed to deflect risk. So much of truly living, to me, is exactly that, approaching risk versus deflecting risk.

To me, approaching risk often looks like this: I get an idea. I get really excited about this idea (probably over-excited) and convince myself it is a good idea. I set a plan in action of how to implement or set on the road to making the idea actually happen.

Basically, when approaching risk, I decide to live my ideas.

Part of approaching risk is deflecting doubt. When the doubts are internal, I tend to try to talk to someone who can provide me with real-life experience on the matter. I often seek out someone I know who trusts my decisions and thinks positively.  And someone who really knows me and supports my BIG ideas. When the doubts are external, I recognize that it might be easier for some to deflect risk.  In most of the “unconventional” challenges I have taken on in my life, the majority of the responses have gone something like, “I would never do that ….How are you going to make that work?” In the case of the Leadville 100, typical reactions also include “You’re nuts” and “That sounds awful.”

These responses surprise me because challenges are exciting! And I can think of less responsible things than taking on challenges and following a passion through. In any event, anyone can do anything for a day or two! Remember, these risks are calculated, and not reckless. I clearly see the value in encouraging those taking calculated risks in our world…just the other day my friend said to me, “If anyone can conquer the unconquerable it is you!”  The outcome will remain unknown until the race, but I certainly appreciate such encouragement over the alternative.

The one thing you can never predict when approaching risk is the reality of how you are going to feel. This risk, the unpredictability of how you are going to feel, is the true risk… yet the one that holds the most potential for growth and rewards. All of the other risks are just doubts that can be resolved one way or the other.

I am sure the road to the Leadville 100 will be a true range of experience, both positive and not so positive.  The perfect opportunity to…

Approach risk.  Deflect doubt.  Live my ideas.

Ilene Bloom is an evolving ultra-runner, mother and lawyer who lives in Denver. In conjunction with training for the Leadville 100, she is raising money for the American Cancer Society at this link: https://www.crowdrise.com/leadville-trail-100-run-for-cancer/fundraiser/ilenebloom.  If you have any questions or thoughts about this article, Ilene can be reached at ilenebloom@hotmail.com.

In An International First, Surfer Chris Bertish Conquers The Atlantic Alone On A Paddleboard : The Two-Way : NPR

Chris Bertish set out from Morocco to become the first to make the crossing alone on a stand-up paddleboard. On Thursday, after 93 days, he paddled into the West Indies, with a whole ocean behind him.

by Colin Dwyer, NPR

In the span of 93 days, Chris Bertish crossed more than 4,050 nautical miles of Atlantic Ocean — and he conquered this lonely crossing standing up. When the South African surfer entered English Harbour on the island of Antigua on Thursday, he was riding the same massive stand-up paddleboard that bore him from Morocco’s Agadir Marina roughly three months ago.

Still, if Bertish’s equipment wasn’t much different from when he started, his place in the record books now certainly is: On Thursday, Bertish became the first person in history to make a solo trans-Atlantic journey on a stand-up paddleboard.

“Across the entire Atlantic Ocean and I am finally here,” Bertish wrote Thursday on Facebook. “I don’t need to be strong and keep it together any longer; it’s been 93 days and it’s done and I let it all go… I am home!”

By the time he made it to the West Indies, battling fittingly windy and rough conditions,” SUP Magazine reports he had already faced down “shark encounters, equipment failures, unfavorable trade winds, loneliness and huge swells.”

At one point, conditions were so rough — and rough for so long — that he and his navigational systems were “just really embattled to just make it through and survive,” Bertish told SUP Magazine in a phone call about halfway through his trans-Atlantic paddle.

“My craft was taking on water, I couldn’t open my hatches, I was underwater most of the time and I don’t think most people understand the severity of that kind of problem,” he continued. “I have a sea grass growing on my entire deck because it’s underwater the entire time.”

But it wasn’t all hardship. There were high marks, as well: Bertish says he smashed the records for longest distance paddled alone across open ocean, and for the longest distance paddled alone in a single 24-hour span — 71.96 nautical miles, nearly doubling the previous mark.

He says he paddled about 60 miles in his last full day on the water alone.

Now, as we noted in December, Bertish’s vessel isn’t exactly your granddad’s stand-up paddleboard. The 20-foot-long behemoth — which he calls ImpiFish — boasts satellite weather forecasting equipment, handheld radio and GPS, solar panels and a tiny cabin where he could sleep at night. And he’s been sure to relay updates to landlubbing supporters on Facebook.

THE TWO-WAY
A Surfer And His Paddleboard Embark On A Lonely Trans-Atlantic Voyage
Those same supporters helped Bertish in his quest to parlay his paddling into charity. He says that as of Thursday, his journey had managed to raise more than $490,000 for Signature of Hope Trust, The Lunchbox Fund and Operation Smile.

“Bertish aims to raise enough money to build at least five schools in South Africa, provide monthly dividends to feed and educate thousands of children and pay for surgeons to carry out life-changing cleft lip and palate operations,” CNN reports.

“I pretty much ate exactly the same thing every single day for 93 days,” he told a crowd assembled to greet him Thursday, as he was settling down to his first meal on land in quite a while. “A lot of the kids we’re doing this for don’t even have enough money to go to school.”

Bertish added: “Every time I’d look down at the same packet of food I was going to have to eat another day in a row, I tell myself: ‘Shut up, you’ve actually got food to eat.’ These kids have nothing.”

He reminded the gathered crowd just how lucky they were to have anything to eat at all … until, his reminder spoken, the crowd politely told him to shut up and just eat his burger — his first after an ocean’s worth of paddling.

Source: In An International First, Surfer Chris Bertish Conquers The Atlantic Alone On A Paddleboard : The Two-Way : NPR

Exclusive: FBI joins probe into Mo Farah coach Alberto Salazar

by Ben Rumsby, Daily Telegraph

The FBI has been dragged into the drugs probe into Sir Mo Farah’s coach as anti-doping investigators step up their pursuit of Alberto Salazar.

Telegraph Sport can reveal that the United States Anti-Doping Agency has enlisted the assistance of America’s national intelligence and law-enforcement service in what is now a four-year inquiry into the man who transformed Farah into Great Britain’s greatest ever track-and-field athlete.

News that the FBI, which brought Fifa to its knees, is working with Usada chief executive Travis Tygart, who brought down Lance Armstrong, emerged less than two weeks after a leaked report from the agency accused Salazar of “unlawful” conduct.

It also came days after it was reported Usada was seeking to retest Farah’s blood samples for the banned substance EPO, or erythropoietin, as part of its investigation. The 33-year-old, who vehemently denies any wrongdoing, declined to comment last night over the involvement of the FBI in Usada’s inquiry, whether he had been spoken to by agents, or whether he would co-operate if asked to do so.

Britain’s four-time Olympic champion has previously agreed to be interviewed by Usada investigators and last week declared himself happy to have any of his stored samples retested “at any time”.

Salazar, who also denies any wrongdoing, did not respond to requests for comment, while Usada declined to comment on the reason for, or the nature of, FBI involvement in its investigation.

The FBI, meanwhile, told Telegraph Sport: “We cannot confirm our involvement or the existence of an investigation.”

The bureau’s last major foray into the world of sport came when it conducted a four-year probe into corruption at Fifa that culminated in dawn raids of the governing body’s luxury hotel and the arrest and prosecution of several of its most senior officials.

Its involvement in the Usada inquiry will crank up the pressure on Salazar over a series of alleged anti-doping breaches, details of which first surfaced almost two years ago.

The American found himself in the spotlight again at the end of last month after the emergence of Usada report, leaked by Russian hackers Fancy Bears, which claimed he had “almost certainly” broken anti-doping rules and failed to provide an “acceptable justification” for possessing testosterone.

Athlete support personnel are prohibited from being in possession of banned drugs without “valid justification”, and Salazar claims he carries it for his own personal use due to suffering from hypogonadism – a condition that causes low levels of the hormone.

The Usada report dismissed this explanation, saying the documents he provided them “do not establish Mr Salazar has suffered from hypogonadism… or that he requires testosterone replacement therapy”.

The report added: “Despite Usada’s request that he do so, Mr Salazar has still produced no laboratory testing records, blood test data, examination notes, chart notes or differential diagnosis substantiating that Mr Salazar suffers from hypogonadism.”

Source: Exclusive: FBI joins probe into Mo Farah coach Alberto Salazar

Mental Training: In Search of a Free Mind | Heather Weidner

by Heather Weidner, HeatherClimbs.com

In a sport like climbing, so dependent on mental fortitude, where is all the information on training the mind?  I find it crazy how many resources there are about fingerboarding and campus workouts, but so few  on how to deal with fear and the ego?  Am I alone with these feelings of negative self-worth in the world of performance rock climbing?  What can I do to improve my mental strength?

Pro-climber and bold British badass Hazel Findlay feels similarly.  “I think climbers get totally bogged down in the physical aspect of climbing and never pay attention to the mental side of climbing,” she claims on her interview with the Enormocast.  “I mean, how many books and blogs are there about finger-boarding, about your weight, or like endurance training or something and there’s hardly anything about how to deal with falling off at the climbing gym.  It’s such a bigger hindrance to performance than whether you can hang on a mono with one finger.  I think people should pay more attention to it.”

I sat down with Jonathan Siegrist, one of the nation’s best sport climbers, during his stay in Vegas.  He had just been in Spain trying to redpoint Pachamama, 5.15a.  He put in 8 continuous weeks of effort on this single route without sending-  the most work he’d ever continuously put into a single pitch of climbing.  I was curious about his head space and how he dealt with this repeated failure.

“My first impression (of Pachamama) was simply that the route was too hard for me, especially based on my previous experiences with projects.  It took me several days to even do all of the moves, and weeks to begin to make significant links.  But I was making just enough progress every day to remain motivated.  In the end I got heartbreakingly close, but it took a month of beating my head against the wall to reach this point.”

I’d say the majority of us struggle mentally in the world of climbing- not to mention with work, day-to-day life, or in relationships.  In the face of repeated challenge how does one maintain a positive attitude?

Jonathan explains, “In all honesty I don’t always maintain a positive attitude.  There are always downs and this is just part of the process.  I think it’s unrealistic to feel optimistic all of the time, and stoked about negative progress or bad conditions or torn skin.  I just try not to sink too far into that space, and let those low moments pass over me.”

I know that dark space, and it’s tough to avoid.

For the past five years I’ve set one big climbing goal for the year, usually around the holidays.  It’s typically been a big project that I’m not sure I could actually do- a climb that is close to my physical and mental limit.
These goals have allowed me to send my hardest routes over the years- but not without significant sacrifice.

My achievement-based motivation often led to frustration and stress.  These projects would sometimes take months- if not years- to complete and involved a large amount of failure.  Dealing with that repetitive failure led to an ego crush- I never felt good enough.  Ultimately, my negative self talk and self-loathing behavior advanced to the point that it affected my relationships.  And sometimes climbing just felt like work.

“Once I get in too deep I think the reality is that I need to step back,” Siegrist explains.  “Take a break, go back to training or change the route or the environment. I’m learning the hard way but I think it’s better to avoid trying too much for too long.  Get some other sending under your belt and lift your stoke levels up before a strong return.”

I needed to step back, too.  The kind of relationship I had developed with myself and climbing was not sustainable.  I had to change something about my redpoint process.

So this year, I have a different goal, and it doesn’t involve climbing (at least directly).  Instead, my goal is a mental goal- to develop a free mind.

What is a free mind?  In sports it’s that magical flow-state you get when you’re fully “in the zone” on a rock climb, or when you’re immersed in painting or playing music.  Time seems to go so fast and you’re completely in the moment, free of distractions.  There’s no inner voice nagging at you or thinking about what you’re going to eat for lunch or that you’re not strong enough or smart enough.  Just you, your breath, body, and laser focus. (For more details on free mind visit:  http://warriorsway.com/the-ultimate-goal-a-free-mind/)

This mental-driven shift started for me shortly after running into Arno Ilgner, author of The Rock Warrior’s Way at the OR show last summer.  I had just sent China Doll, a send which I felt was my proudest accomplishment as a climber, and I still just didn’t feel “good enough.”

Arno was interested in picking my brain about my redpoint processes and putting together a mental plan for more advanced climbers, Arno hopes to develop mental training programs for elite rock climbers in the future, expanding beyond one of the main focuses of his clinics which is catered to more moderate climbers tackling the fear of falling. In return for working with Arno I would benefit from mental training directly from the warrior himself.

Since last fall, every week or two Arno and I are in contact.  He has given me mental drills, such as meditation, journaling, and intentional breathing to name a few.  We talk on the phone about mental processes, what I’ve been up to, and how my drills are going.

Because I’m in the thick of these exercises and talks with Arno, I honestly don’t have an answer to the most common questions I get from climbers like, “what is the point of all these drills?” and “is it working?”

What I know is that my awareness has increased tremendously.  I can’t say I never get upset when I can’t do a rock climb or that my feelings of self-loathing magically went away.  But I can say I notice my inner voice more, and I now have some tools to use in order to deal with dips in self-confidence and worth in the face of climbing (and life) challenges.

Setting a goal centered around mindfulness instead of achievement- like a specific climb- is a big change for me, and honestly it’s scary.  After all, we live in a world where great achievements are highly praised.  Will I get worse at my favorite sport?  Will I lose motivation?
Creating new habits in the face of mental addictions feels like work.  For me, focusing on being attentive to the learning process has been the key to sticking with my mental training every day.  In this way, it is quite simple- but certainly not easy.
Siegrist believes, “To be critical and open-minded is most important.  Write things down, speak with others around you, and try to be realistic about your experience. Try to be humble to the process and recognize a learning opportunity. I think everyone could benefit from carefully considering their climbing attitude…

Every time I go climbing it is mental training!”
And maybe that’s why- in part- we keep coming back for more.

Source: Mental Training: In Search of a Free Mind | Heather Weidner

American Woman Reaches a New Milestone in Rock Climbing

“It goes, boys”

Nineteen-year-old Margo Hayes has taken a huge leap in shrinking the climbing world’s gender gap.

by Andrew Bisharat, National Geographic

Throughout the 1980s and much of the 1990s, when rock climbing was very much a fringe activity, women were rarely spotted up on the rock. Even fewer were performing at a cutting-edge level.

The notable exception was Lynn Hill, who in 1993 became the first person (male or female) to free climb the 3,000-foot Nose of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Free climbers ascend without falling or using gear to rest or aid upward progress. Hill’s feat cemented her status as an action sports legend and proved in the biggest way possible that women could climb just as hard as, if not harder than, men.

“It goes, boys,” she boldly stated after her big achievement.

Before climbing the Nose, Hill became the first woman to climb a route with a difficulty grade of 5.14a, which was considered a world-class level at the time. In 1990, Jean-Baptiste Tribout, the leading French sport climber of the time, infamously stated that year that “no woman would ever climb [a 5.14a].” Hill proved Tribout wrong that same year by completing a 5.14a sport climb in France called Masse Critique.

Best of all, she completed the route in fewer tries than Tribout.

In a similar breakthrough, Margo Hayes, 19, of Boulder, Colorado, has achieved a new milestone in the sport. On February 26, 2017, she climbed La Rambla, a sport climb in Siurana, Spain, that is rated 5.15a. This achievement makes her the first woman to reach this level of difficulty, which is very close to the highest levels ever achieved by top-performing male climbers.

“Over the last few years the gender gap has really narrowed,” said Hayes in an online video interview last year. “There’s going to be a big change—there’s more women and more young girls coming up in rock climbing. Watch out, boys!”

La Rambla is a 150-foot tall yellow and blue limestone route. It overhangs by 30 degrees the whole way, making it an unrelenting challenge. It has been climbed by only a few of the best male climbers in the world and is considered solid for its difficulty rating.

The holds on La Rambla, particularly on the blue patina of limestone near the top of the route, can be razor sharp, making the climbing not just difficult but downright painful as the rock chews through fingertips like dog toys.

“Margo’s effort was unprecedented,” says Jon Cardwell, a top American sport climber and one of Hayes’s climbing partners during her historic trip. “She was bleeding from her fingers every day. That route is a bloodbath now! But never once was this an excuse. Extraordinary character in that girl.”

One sign of the changing times in rock climbing is Hayes’s presence at a world-class crag in Spain with perhaps the two strongest American climbers right now, Jon Cardwell and Matty Hong—all of them climbing as equals. The three live in Boulder, Colorado, where they climb and train together.

Hong, in fact, successfully completed La Rambla just two days before Hayes. Cardwell, who is also “projecting” the route, is expected to achieve his own success any day now.

“I am overwhelmed and humbled by the support I’ve received from the climbing community, and my family and friends near and far,” Hayes wrote on Instagram. “None of us achieves our dreams alone, we do so together, and build on those who have come before us.”

Indeed. The question of whether a woman would reach 5.15a was never one of “if” but of “when” and “who.” Over the last decade, the best female climbers in the world have been pushing right up to that 5.15a level.

Climbing grades are subject to a community-wide consensus of difficulty, so women have climbed routes that were first considered to be at a 5.15a difficulty level but were retroactively downgraded after consensus was reached.

With those shifts in mind, the climbing community has awaited a female ascent of 5.15a sport climb that is widely agreed to be a benchmark for the grade. Hayes’s ascent of La Rambla meets that criteria.

Here’s a timeline of top achievements in female sport climbing that have led up to this moment:

1990: Lynn Hill climbs Masse Critique (5.14a) in Cimai, France, a route that J.B. Tribout once said “no woman would ever climb.” The route takes Hill fewer tries than Tribout and her ascent makes her the first woman to climb a 5.14a.

2002: Josune Bereziartu, a Basque climber, becomes the first woman to climb a 5.14d when she ascends the Bain de Sang in St. Loup, Switzerland. At the time, the hardest route in the world was only one grade higher at 5.15a. She was also climbing two or three grades harder than any other woman.

2004: Bereziartu climbs another 5.14d: Logical Progression in Japan.

2005: Bereziartu achieves her hardest route yet: Bimbaluna in Switzerland. The route is given a “slash” rating of 5.14d/5.15a, meaning it might not be difficult enough to be considered a full-fledged 5.15a, but compared to all other routes with 5.14d ratings, it’s a tough one.

2011: French climber Charlotte Durif climbs PPP (5.14d) in Verdon, France. Some European climbing magazines dispute the veracity of her claim and refuse to publish the news.

2011: Sasha Digiulian, from Virginia, climbs Pure Imagination (5.14d at the time) in the Red River Gorge, Kentucky. Subsequent ascents of the route, however, land the consensus grade at 5.14c.

2012: Digiulian climbs Era Vella (5.14d), in Margalef, Spain. Again, subsequent ascents suggest the route might in fact be slightly easier.

2013: Murial Sarkany, from Brussels, Belgium, climbs Punt X (5.14d) in Gorges du Loup, France, at age 39. This makes her either the second, third, or fourth woman to reach the 5.14d grade after Bereziartu, depending on whether Durif and Digiulian’s ascents are considered valid.

2015: Mar Alvarez, a full-time firefighter, climbs Escalatamasters (5.14d) in her home country of Spain.

2015: At age 13, Ashima Shiraishi, the phenom climber from New York City, takes a spring break trip to Santa Linya, Spain, where she climbs a potential 5.15a called Open Your Mind Direct. However, other climbers agree to a consensus that the route is, in fact, only 5.14d. The community still awaits a female ascent of an undisputed 5.15a.

2016: Margo Hayes climbs Bad Girls Club (5.14d) in Rifle, Colorado.

2016: Laura Rogora, a 14-year-old climbing prodigy from Italy, climbs Grandi Gesti (5.14d), in Italy, making her the second youngest person to climb that grade.

2017: Rogora continues her tear and climbs another 5.14d: Joe Blau in Oliana, Spain.

2017: Margo Hayes climbs La Rambla (5.15a), becoming the first female climber to reach this level.

 

Source: American Woman Reaches a New Milestone in Rock Climbing