For my entire climbing career, I’ve always walked up to boulders, examined the perfectly chalked holds, and climbed problems confident that the line was solid – and it always was. When presented with a perfectly developed bouldering area, why would one even stop to ponder the process that made these lines so clean, inviting, and often classic?
During my extended stint living in Joe’s Valley, I was blessed with the opportunity to assist in a bit of development of new areas. We met Steven Jeffrey, and his incredible girlfriend Adriana, who are currently knee-deep in the creation of a new (and vastly improved) Joe’s Valley guidebook. They invited us to accompany them while scouting out new boulder problems, and we eagerly obliged – then quickly learned involved a lot of wet river crossings, and hours where the fellas disappear for hours in search of new problems.
As a moderate climber, the first thing I noticed in Joe’s Valley is a distinct lack of super-easy warm-up feel-good problems. I was stoked for the opportunity to help establish some V1-4 problems to help even out the spread. The first thing I “first ascented” was a flakey V1 below Bring the Heatwole. I quickly learned that when you’re bagging the first summit of a boulder, everything is 10x scarier, no matter how easy the grade is. As I pulled up on flaked edges at the top, I kept re-assessing my feet and praying holds didn’t break.
My proud first ascent onsight was a V2-3 I named “Tree People.” It’s tucked around the corner from the entrance to the Eden area, aptly named because of the parted trees you have to climb through to complete the extended slab top-out. I continued my lesson on development during this climb, learning that the holds are sharper, the unknown condition of top-outs is slightly more daunting, and the thrill of being the first person to climb something is addicting.
The majority of our feeble attempts at helping Steven and Adriana develop new boulders in the left fork of Joe’s Valley were spent across the river at Superhero Hill. Niko was particularly enthralled by the prospect of helping to establish new trails, especially after a heinous hike up to my favorite problem in Joe’s, Cobra Con (V4).
Before you can climb a boulder, you have to get there. I will forever appreciate the ease of established approaches after experiencing the before-and-after of a path to a boulder. On the first day, we trudged up a towering choss pile that sent waves of dirt and rocks tumbling down with every step. Adriana slipped into a thorny bush, and I twisted my ankle no less than 5 times. It wasn’t pretty.
A few days later, we hiked up the hill to find Steven and Adriana working on improving the trail. Armed with shovels, Niko and Steven sought up to flatten a landing while us ladies focused on building cairns, packing down the dirt on our new trail, and digging out a dirt mound to save a little tree from being trampled by climbers. It was tiring work, but nothing compared to the weeks Steven and Adriana have spent out here toiling to create accessibility on the steep hillsides surrounding the new areas.
Niko’s effort to establish his new V3-4 , GI Jane, offers the best glimpse into what it takes to create a new boulder problem. He found the line one day while exploring with Steven, and was instantly infatuated with it. He rapelled from the top of the boulder armed with chalk and a brush, then set to work cleaning the holds. Scrubbing sand and broken bits from the pockets, feeling potential new holds, smacking their sides to make sure nothing would break – it was a tedious process.
His dedication to this line paid off when we brought a gaggle of climbers up to the hill to explore some of the new routes in the area. It was blatant that Niko was swelling with a bit of pride as he watched everyone take turns cruising up his new problem.
And to think, we merely dipped our toes into the process. There’s a whole crew of folks who come out here every weekend and slave away at the seemingly endless task of establishing new areas. Holds are broken (sometimes in a violent manner that send the climber crashing to the ground), rocks are scrubbed, trails are plowed, and at the heart of it all, first ascents are proudly conquered.
Next time you hike up a nicely built trail to your new bouldering project, don’t forget to reflect on all the hard work, dedication, and relentless passion that made your climb possible. I’ll never experience bouldering the same way again. Huge amounts of gratitude, love, and appreciation are due to all those folks who are constantly out developing in Joe’s Valley (and across the country).