Dave Graham, Jimmy Webb, Jamie Emerson, and I went hiking two years ago in Guanella Pass, Colorado. Our goal was to find new boulders. Towards the end of the day, Jimmy and I got separated from Dave and Jamie. When we met back at the car, Dave explained that he had found a worthy boulder with a few potential lines on it, the main line being this prominent prow with just enough holds to make it possible. The black gneiss was littered with white bands of quartzite, along with splashes of green lichen. It looked beautiful and we were psyched to return.
Daniel Woods on The Ice Knife. Photo: © Beau Kahler
Out of our crew, Dave was the only one that went back to see if it was possible. After spending some time developing a sequence that worked, he made the first ascent of The Ice Knife, proposing 8C (V15). Another year went by, and The Ice Knife remained unrepeated. Nathan Bancroft produced a short film called Scarred for Life, featuring the FA of the Ice Knife. I had totally forgotten about this line until after watching this movie. It inspired me to pay it a visit, along with Paul Robinson. The Ice Knife was just as stunning in person as in the video.
We went to work figuring out the sequence, but Dave's method was too “morpho" for us. Luckily, there was another solution to solve this puzzle. I found a small, quarter-pad edge for the left hand that allowed me to eliminate the big move and post up to a right hand three-finger quartz sloper. From here I could toe hook out left, bump my left hand up to the high hold, compress in with my right to a half-pad flat sidepull, and do the finishing left-hand move to the full-pad gaston. This sequence required more moves, but was the only way possible for us. Paul and I came close to sending the first day, but would have to return and finish it off. We returned the next day to perfect conditions. We warmed up then started making attempts. After a few slip-ups here and there, Paul and I made the 2nd and 3rd ascents of The Ice Knife. After sending, I started to look at the line from a low start.
The stand started halfway up the wall, but it would be cool to do it from the sit and complete the full line of the boulder. The sit starts with a left-hand, three-finger pinch and a right-hand full-pad edge. You plug in a right knee scum and do a long left arm lock off to a right hand half-pad undercling. From here you take out your knee scum, build your feet higher, come into a left-hand undercling pinch, bump left hand again to a two-finger sloping dimple, then bump again left hand to a flat quartzite edge. This sequence adds an 8A+ boulder into the existing 8B+/C. There’s not a rest to separate these two sections, dramatically increasing the stand's difficulty. I was able to do all the moves of the sit, but would have to come back and put it together.
I returned, determined to link the bottom moves. After some time revisiting the individual moves, I was able to connect them into the stand start. When I arrived into the stand, I was already loaded and breathing hard. It was crazy to imagine doing the crux of the stand this tired. The sit zaps most of your core and shoulder strength, which is what you need to be fresh for the stand's crux. I was content with day two’s progression on the sit, and realized I was going to need some serious fitness to complete this beast.
Multiple training sessions and sessions on the project went by. I was feeling strong, had bullet proof skin, and felt as if I could do it any day. I was climbing efficiently through the bottom, but kept falling on the crux. Finally, I was able to stick the crux but fell on the final move to the gaston. This allowed me to realize that the full was possible. Sadly, I could not try anymore due to leaving for Australia for the summer.
Another angle on The Ice Knife. Photo: © Beau Kahler
Summer went by and fall started to approach. The temperatures were dropping in the high country and it was soon going to be alpine season. I knew I had one month of perfect conditions to complete this boulder before the snow came. At this point, eight days were already invested into the sit. I warmed up, then tried each section to become familiar with the moves. They did not feel as good as before. Doubt entered if the line was going down this year or not. I vowed to return.
During the next sessions, I struggled with finding the right conditions. It was either too hot or cold. I kept falling on the crux move of the stand, pulling back on, and climbing to the top. The game turned into a mental challenge rather than physical. I knew I was in perfect shape, but my mind was weak. This was detrimental to my overall performance. Your brain is the strongest muscle within your body. It is hard to flip that switch and climb with confidence, especially if you have already dug yourself into a hole. I knew I had to regain confidence to complete this boulder. There is a boulder problem above Boulder Falls that Chris Schulte established called The Right (8B/+). I had not tried this before and decided to pay it a visit. The line was involved and hard. I went to work with a free mind and was able to send within a session. I needed that euphoric release to be psyched again. Now I was ready to return and try hard.
The next session on the project was different. I felt confident and eager to climb on the moves rather than forced. I pulled on and began to flow. The rock felt sticky and the moves felt natural. I stuck the crux and continued on. I stuck the final gaston move (the first time I had ever done this) and believed this line was about to go down. Excitement entered as I threw for the lip of the boulder, followed by depression as gravity pulled me back down into the unpadded talus. I was numb inside, blocking the pain of my now bloody ankles. My mind was confused. What happened? As I was going for the lip, my right foot slipped at the last second. This feeling was something that I had never experienced in climbing. I tried to shrug it off and give the line more attempts, but my brain now had a boot on it. I left the boulder and reflected on what happened. The next four days predicted five inches of snow to fall. After, there were two days of sun before more snow came. I had one last shot before everything turned into a disaster. I used these snow days to train and brutalize myself. I ignored the last session and tried to start fresh. The only thing holding me back was my head.
The snow passed, temps remained cold, and the sun was out. Today presents 42 F, 20 m.p.h. winds, and ground snow to add in some humidity. Everything was perfect, and this was the best condition that I had felt on the line. My head was empty. I did not know if I was going to send or fall. I pulled on and enjoyed how the moves felt under these pristine conditions. I stuck the crux move, then stuck the gaston move. De ja vu as I threw for the lip. Instead of gravity winning, I controlled the final hold, lowered my heart rate, and topped out the boulder. The full line was now complete. I just smiled and felt free. The project won many battles, but I won the war.
To celebrate, I established another line to the right calling it Carnage (8B). After having climbed for 19 years, I still deal with new obstacles in my climbing. Experiencing the journey and enjoying it is what keeps me going. There will always be something harder, and the challenge is to not let failure get the better of you, but learn from failure to create success.
Learn more about Daniel Woods
Video of Daniel Woods and Paul Robinson sending The Ice Knife stand-start