Black Canyon: Atlantis

“Black hole: a region of space having a gravitational field so intense that no matter or radiation can escape.”

View from the campsite.

I can’t look away. Beauty, despair, elation, pain, peace and pure terror — I am overwhelmed like the rocky banks of the Gunnison River two thousand feet below. The sun succumbs to the horizon; darkness falls.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is my favorite place on earth.

The first time I set foot on the inner canyon, everything went wrong. My partner injured her knee downclimbing the Cruise Gulley, then I wasted precious October daylight on an unforgivable routefinding blunder. We were benighted on the easiest route in the canyon, and stumbled out by headlamp.

Since then, I’ve climbed in the Black twenty-six times. Every route brings a new level of appreciation for the place. I cherish my hours spent on the steep, splitter granite that erupts heavenward from the river.

Having recently climbed the classic 1700′ Layton Kor line, the Cruise, I set my sights on the next step: Atlantis (IV, 5.11-, 1600′). Whereas the Cruise is a jolly joyride of obvious, never-ending handcracks, Atlantis was reputed to deliver a more varied (and scaried) experience with face climbing and traverses. My longtime friend and best Black Canyon partner, Tim, was all too happy to oblige.

Top of P5 chimney slot.

The day began at 02:30 after a restless night. Is there any other kind when you’re dreaming of mandatory onsight terrain? The morning routine was seamless: shovel yogurt and granola and a half-liter of water down my gullet. Stuff gummy worms and Slim Jims in pockets. Tape up. Pinch off the first, feeble attempt at excretion, knowing full well that your bowels will revolt the moment you tie in for the first pitch. Struggle into a harness chock-full (ha) of heavy metal. Embark, stricken with bravado-masked anxiety and furtive hopes for a type-one day.

We stumbled down Prisoner of Your Hairdo Gully, thankful for the previous trip’s recon on Buzz Cut. A short fixed rap led to a ropestretcher rap off a tree (to avoid an exposed but easy traverse), then then a bushwhack to another short fixed rap. PoyH Gully met up with Grizzly Gully and dumped us at the river, 1:30 elapsed. The base of the route was easy to find after some easy-fifth scrambling.

The first pitch was a good, nondescript warmup, which Tim styled. The second had some suspect flakes, but was mostly good clean fun. I ended up further left than I should have and was uncertain about the topo, and belayed early. Tim finished up the pitch and brought us to the base of the first crux.

Excellent stone.

The route gets serious at this point. Tim plugged a piece off the belay, then launched into a completely unprotected fifty-foot 5.8 peg traverse. The topo promised a fixed pin, but there was none. The climbing was all there, but the consequences were dire. At the end of the traverse, he plugged in a few thank-the- maker pieces and continued into some excellent, balancy 5.11-, clipping one bolt and adequate gear along the way. Following the pitch wasn’t anywhere near as spicy, but still required care.

Pitch four had some great face climbing on good gear. It was dripping wet, however, and I had my only fall of the day onto a bomber #3.

This pitch was wet, even after a week of dry weather.

The next pitch would have been more fun without the rope drag. Tim got a workout pulling slack with one hand and climbing with the other.

Six entailed some routefinding shenanigans, seven elicited copious profanity due to even more rope drag.

On the eighth pitch, I had the pleasure of pulling a stellar 5.11- roof over a bolt. That pleasure soon dissipated as I belated realized I should have extended the sling. The rest of the pitch was
marginally protected .9-10a (running twenty feet over an equalized grey Metolius and #4 Stopper!). It felt far more serious due to drag. The pitch ended in a mercifully-shaded chimney.

Bike arm warmers are super handy and easily stuff into walkoff shoes.

A fun, rompy chimney led to an exposed chockstone belay below the next crux. As soon as I cut left under the roof and lost sight of my belayer, the climbing dialed up a notch — sustained, awkward 5.11- fingers and sweaty stemming.

By pitch eleven, we were feeling the effects of the heat. It would’ve been nice to have chalk on the thirty feet of unprotected 5.8 peg before the bolt.

Twelve was marked 5.10R. Despite harder moves, it didn’t seem as runout as the previous pitch. However, you’d come pretty close to decking if you blew it after the bolt — make sure the belayer has a good upward-pull piece.

Pitch thirteen dumped us onto a terrace after one awkward face move. From there, we had the choice of bushwhacking back up Prisoner, or climbing an extra three hundred feet of 5.10-11. We were really hoping to finish in vertical style on the rim, but there was no way we had the gas (or water) to do so. We may have won the pitched battle, but the June sun was wining the war.

After puzzling over our walkoff route (yes, you hike back up Prisoner), we thrashed through interminable scrub oak, jugged our first rap, slogged up the steep dirt of the gully, and finally crawled onto the glorious terra firma of the North Rim.

“I would trade half my rack for a muthafuggin’ ice cream cone right now.”

Cold chicken soup, chocolate milk and Gatorade awaited us. Car to car: sixteen hours, twenty minutes for 1300′ vert. (In contrast, we did Scenic two years prior in thirteen hours flat for 1700′). It wasn’t our most efficient day, but considering the severity and inobviousness of the route and the heat index, we were pretty happy.

Looking back, there were some serious objective hazards to the route. I wouldn’t hesitate to get back on Atlantis, but if I were leading P3, I’d ask the FA if I could replace the blown pin on the peg traverse. All in all, it was an incredible, thought-provoking route on excellent stone.

Next stop: Astrodog!


La Sportiva TX2 Approach Shoe

Part 3: Alpine Test

I took the TX2’s on our trip to Storm King Peak in the Grenadiers. We hiked thirteen miles in, then climbed the North Face (5.10 headwall finish), scrambled off the Southwest Ridge, then hiked thirteen miles out the next day.

Storm King Peak

This is what these shoes were born for. I didn’t bring climbing shoes, and the TX2’s absolutely rocked the terrain. Over the course of the trip, they handled slimy creek crossings on wet logs and rocks, lots of rocky trail, scree skiing, fluid talus, boulder-hopping, standup glissading, 5.7 slab and 5.10 steep face. Outstanding performance on all fronts. Oh, and on the approach I was carrying a ninety-meter rope and all the pro. (“WTF?!” you say. Read the trip report for an explanation of this gratuitous choice).

10.5 pounds of rope …

My only complaint is that I’m pretty sure I got a half-size too small. I normally wear 43’s in TC Pro, but those are leather and stretch. By the end of each day, the shoe was digging into my outside ankle bones, especially on the downhills. I eventually loosened the laces, which helped, and then for the last two miles hiked with them completely unlaced. Ankle pain subsided but toe pain increased, so your mileage may vary. Next time I’ll get a 44 to allow for cushy insoles and thick socks.

Summit of Storm King via North Face Direct

Durability remains to be seen … they’re scuffing a bit from all the scree skiing we did on the descent. The toe bumper is quite solid, but just above the sole on the pinky toes is showing some inchoate wear and tear.

Overall, I’m highly impressed with the Sportiva TX2 approach shoes and would gladly buy another pair at retail price.

Part 2: Climbing Test

In Part 1, I was impressed with how well the TX2’s handled trail running and easy slabs. Also promising was their light and packable design — a great omen of their utility on routes with walkoffs. What remained to be seen was how good they were on steeper rock.

Despite their lack of leather, TX2’s pass the crag hound taste test.

It was obvious that the shoes would perform like champs on slab due their XSGrip rubber, so I concentrated on edging for their vertical test drive.

The first day we went to Cascade Canyon limestone between Durango and Silverton. The routes there are a mix of techy crimping and edging, and good ol’ fashioned overhanging jug hauls. In the spirit of proper gear testing, I led all the test routes.

I started on our usual 5.10b warmup that featured a couple moves of halfpad crimping over similarly thin feet, followed by a roof pull on good holds. The thin crux was a bit worrisome, but I was able to send it. The route felt more like .10d in approach shoes, but I was impressed at the performance to comfort ratio.

Then we hopped on a mega classic .11c arete, mostly a steep pumpfest with a hard lieback right off the deck. I found myself gripping harder to make up for not wearing downturned shoes, and fell off once above the crux. This route was obviously an overkill test, but it was fun to push something closer to my limit in the TX2’s. Still impressed.

Had to run another lap in Katanas to rectify the un-send in TX2’s.

Next, we dialed it back a notch on a steep, juggy 5.9. The shoes performed quite well. The TX2’s are nowhere near as stiff as proper climbing shoes, but their edging performance is miles ahead of my previous “approach” shoes (Montrail Mountain Masochists).

The next day, we visited an undisclosed location outside Montrose, CO that features vertical techy, ninety-foot basalt cliffs. This is where the shoes really shone. After a 5.7 warmup, I led two 5.9+ routes with thin cruxes. I hardly noticed a difference between the TX2’s and my cheap Cypher Prefix warmup shoes.

Next was a sustained, crimpy .10d. This route is not a gimme for me in rock shoes, and I was fairly pumped by the chains, but it was a good, clean send nevertheless.

Finally, I led a thin. 11a, which of course was easier than the previous .10d. Again, I was very pleased with the TX2’s edging performance, which allowed for a relatively casual redpoint.

Overall, the TX2’s have proven their worth on 5.10+ face climbing, stuff that I would probably shoe up for anyway. The rubber is quite sticky and edges well for being a comfortable trail runner.

In the next part of this review, I’ll take them on a real-world test to the Black and the Weminuche Wilderness.


Part 1: Initial Observations and Trailrunning Test (seggzy gotesox sold separately)


I’ve never seen the need for approach shoes. My trail runners (Montrail Mountain Masochists) have always served me well as regards weight, comfort and durability, especially on my 24-day CT thru-hike. I tend to shoe up for anything over 5.6 anyway, so I figured the extra climbability of dedicated approach shoes would be superfluous.

The TX2’s crossed my radar when my buddy wore a pair to approach Atlantis in the Black Canyon. I was especially intrigued by how thin they packed with the heel strap — easily half the bulk of my trail runners. The grippy sole seemed to serve him well on the exposed low-fifth scramble to the base of the route.

My main hesitation was how well the shoe would handle running. My trailrunners were due for replacement, and I wondered if the TX2s could cover for them. I had plans for a four-day fastpack of the Grenadiers that included some fifth-class slabbing where sticky rubber would be a plus (now postponed due to early-onset monsoon, grr). So when a good deal arose, I pulled the trigger. With my toe, just like Papa Hemingway.

This is part one of three, the trailrunning test. I’ll follow up regarding climbability after a day of wearing them on 5.10-11, and then again regarding durability after I put some backpacking mileage on them.

Initial Observations:

The shoes are light. Advertised at 9.8 oz compared to MMM’s 10.8, they feel comparable.

The fit is spot-on. I wear 43.0 in TC Pro’s and 10.0 in MMM’s. The toebox is comfortable but doesn’t allow extraneous movement.

Using the attached heel bungee cord, they stow away satisfactorily. The sidewalls of the shoe are a bit stiff still, but should soften up and compress better as they break in.

The “climb zone” edging platform is surprisingly stiff, as is the forefoot of the shoe. I expect the latter to soften up over time, but the edging capabilities of the toe look promising.

Field Test:

I took the TX2’s for a spin on our local chosspile 12,900, Engineer Mountain. The terrain is varied as it gains 2500′ over hardpack, snow, steep mud, fluid talus, 3rd/4th class and a wee bit of 5.2. I carried two liters of water and ran whenever possible. I took my Montrails on the exact same route the week before, so I had a good basis for comparison.

The shoes were stellar for running the flats and uphills, almost as good as the MMM’s. The downhills were less comfortable (aren’t they always?) … the impact was more noticeable, and my back started to hurt. Contrary to other reviewers, the shoes were not much more sensitive underfoot — I was able to pick the same downhill lines as usual. Also, the sidewall chafed at my ankle bone slightly on the downs.

They weren’t as good as the MMM’s in the mud. It seems like the circular lugs didn’t gain as much traction.

On fluid talus, the shoes performed as expected for their weight. I wouldn’t want to do any sustained scree surfing for fear of thrashing them.

For 3rd/4th/low5th, I was suitably impressed by the stickiness of the rubber and the stability of the toe edge. Even with some mud on the soles, they stuck like champs.


So far, I’m impressed. We’ll see what subsequent tests yield. My biggest complaint is that the stock insoles may be too flimsy for sustained downhill trail running (but then again, these aren’t marketed as trail runners). I’ll try it again with some thicker ones.

The biggest advantage I can see for these will be their low weight/bulk for walkoffs, and not needing to bring separate climbing shoes for easy alpine.

In the next week, I’ll push the TX2s to their limit on granite, limestone and sandstone face climbing and then report back with an update.

Armaid Rubbit


Background: I have been experiencing intermittent medial epicondylitis (golfer’s elbow) for the past year. At its worst, I resorted to paying a massage therapist $60 weekly for trigger point massage sessions. These helped alleviate the symptoms in the short term, but did not eradicate them. During that time, I was climbing four days a week in the vicinity of 5.10 trad.

At the time, I used a can of chili for self-massage. This proved helpful as ongoing maintenance in preventing tendonitis flareups, but only to a point. (Steep limestone sport climbing the day after Scenic Cruise … bad idea, return to therapist).

What ended up helping most was working antagonist muscles. Reverse wrist curls, eccentric assisted wrist curls, and rotating a hammer helped, as did several stretches . After a couple weeks of these exercises, flareups subsided, and I could climb without worrying about a relapse.

Nevertheless, I wanted to make sure my golfer’s elbow would never come back. To that end, I purchased the Armaid Rubbit, intending to utilize its thirty-day money-back guarantee if it didn’t prove any better than my trusty Hormel’s Spicy Chili.

Method: For thirty days and thirty nights, I used the Armaid daily: five minutes in the morning, five at night, and a ten-minute cool-down session after cragging. In addition, I brought the admittedly lewd-looking device to the crag and used it before and between routes, and as a conversation starter. As for technique, I used the green roller on both sides of my forearm, then on my bicep, then on my tricep. I’d also detach the roller arm and work quads, hams, and hip flexors (excellent for the latter). After each rubdown, I drank half a liter of water.

Initial Observations: The Armaid revealed and massaged away the tension in my forearms and upper arms in a way that the can hadn’t. I was able to work on golfer’s and tennis trouble spots very easily. I was surprised at how good it felt to work the upper arm. However, the Armaid fell short of the can in one regard: it wasn’t as easy to clamp down on a trigger point. Perhaps the sharp edge of the can was superior to the rounded green croissant.

Subsequent Observations: After two weeks, I noticed that I’d lost that lovin’ feeling to some degree — I was still feeling the burn, but disco fever had been downgraded by a few degrees. (Climbing was consistent throughout this testing period.) Perhaps my arms were not as tight to begin with? Regardless, the Armaid still produced good results, both before climbing (lightly) and after (aggressively). I felt like I recovered faster and started the next cragging day without as much of a “pump hangover” from the previous session, even on the third or fourth consecutive day.

Shortcomings: The Armaid was like a gateway drug, and by the end of the month I was wishing that the rotating green turd blossom had a higher density of foam. I felt like I really had to lock it down tight and squeeze with my fingers to get the compression that had come more easily beforehand. My buddy bought a classic Armaid, and the white plastic balls felt more effective than the Rubbit roller.

Also, importantly, I still feel like ye aulde Can provides a better stationary trigger point. (Also, the can isn’t going to get you pulled over while operating a motor vehicle.) However, the rolling abilities of the Armaid are far above and beyond the can.

Conclusion: The Armaid is not a magic bullet or overtraining insurance, but I’m glad to have it in the arsenal. It is worth the cost and expenditure of time to aid recovery and prevent injuries.

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