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I Boulderer – New School Yosemite Bouldering

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Matt Wilder on Shadow Warrior (V12). Photo by Noah Kaufman

CLICK HERE to view a sample map of the Candyland boulders from Matt Wilder’s NEW guidebook Yosemite Valley Bouldering, publsihed by SuperTopo

Granite. Black-and-white-speckled, fine-grained, compact, solid stone. Confident, angular boulders sculpted by time and held firmly in place by gravity. Tall, blunt arêtes, mockingly blank. An obtuse, crackless corner. Overhanging faces carved with blocky edges. Leaves and pine needles crunching underfoot, releasing autumnal scents. The pungent odor of pines scattered throughout open forests. A blurry speck of gray against browns and greens — is that a new boulder? Mosaics of light filtering through the forest canopy, speckling the blocs with a coarser pattern.

I am a boulderer. These are the textures and shapes of my dreams. In November 2006, I came to the Valley exclusively to boulder — to fulfill my dreams. Yosemite Valley’s main draw is the long trad and aid routes, but the bouldering is equally worthy… and not just around Camp 4. Indeed, this infamous climbers’ campground offers a dense collection of highly classic, easily accessible, and historically rich boulders: the finger wrenching Bachar Cracker (V4); the slippery slab of Blue Suede Shoes (V5); Midnight Lightning (V8) — of course; and the pure, technical face of Thriller (V10). But farther afield, in the quieter corners of the Valley, adventurous first ascentionists will find prodigious potential: tighter-grained granite, more provocative movement than the Camp 4 staples, and stickier friction. At the top of the new-school heap sits Candyland, a high-yielding, recently developed cluster of blocs below the Lost Brother cliff.

When I arrived that November, the weather was perfect, and good friends and positive energy abounded. My Candyland dream project, Shadow Warrior, had resisted days of effort the previous spring, and now waited less than a mile from my tent. I stood surrounded by vast walls of perfect granite, scores of boulders clustered beneath the canopy and a rich climbing history on all sides. Having served my time on the polished problems surrounding Camp 4, however, I dreamt only of new-school lines. Shadow Warrior (now V12) was one such: it’s a modern-day testpiece of wild slaps and wicked body english/body tension out a roofy prow and it hearkens back to the Yosemite bouldering new wave, which began in the 1980s and ’90s.

Back in that day, climbers like Rick Cashner, Steve Jenivene, and Dean Potter opened stacked areas, including the ultra-mega Cathedral Boulders. Others, too, have wandered off the beaten path to find classics. From these efforts came areas like the Ahwahnee Boulders, which hosts roughly 100 fun problems right next to the Valley’s most luxurious hotel; the remote Lost Boulders, tucked into the hillside below Lost Brother cliff and where resides the stout roof finger crack Deliverance (V8); and the roadside MSG Boulder, with numerous interesting problems on dark, featured granite.

The latest wave began circa 2004, as a group of motivated Bay Area boulderers, including Randy Puro, Paul Barraza, and Tim Medina, spearheaded the charge. Their problems spread throughout the Valley, all beautifully proud, slightly overhanging faces. The Bay Area crew also has found hidden gems in picked-over Camp 4, problems, like Team America (V5), Honor Among Thieves (V9), and Scissors for Lefty (V12), that likely long went avoided because of less-than-perfect landings. Modern pad technology, however, has allowed for the latest expressions of new-school courage, a point proven by these blocs and by Jason Kehl’s 2003 ropeless ascent of the 30-foot V10 After Midnight, on the Columbia Boulder, or Dean Potter’s 2007 FA of King Air, on the Le Conte Boulder.

When I returned to the Valley last fall, I had dreams of Yosemite’s infinite bouldering landscape. More dreams of perfect granite. Magnetic lines on supreme, untouched boulders. Highballs perched in a quiet forest far from tourists. I roamed the woods searching for the perfect line. I passed an abundance of fun-looking unclimbed problems, but stopped only at the latent gems. The potential here is so great I could afford to be selective — I encountered four-star projects during nearly every exploration session. I racked my brain, trying to recall the views from various Valley climbs — had I seen a cluster of big boulders under that cliff, or was it somewhere else? The options seemed endless; the best options, I soon learned, lay in Candyland.

Candyland has been around since the 1990s, when climbers developed a few problems (at the time, these blocks were considered part of the Lost Boulders, all but unknown to most even though they sit only 10 minutes from the road). I’d first stumbled upon Candyland in 2005, immediately realizing its monster potential. Although a few lines had been climbed, many great problems remained. We — Josh Williams, Dave Nunley, myself, and others — began pecking away in spring 2006. We added many fun new problems to the seven main boulders, tagging classics like Pushover (V0), Happily Ever After(V6), the Diamond (V8), and, finally, the line I’d come for: Shadow Warrior (V12), on which I finally tagged the FA. Numerous boulders uphill from the developed blocs still remain untouched.

Here is an overview of the latest Yosemite classics — many of them at Candyland — as seen through the eyes of longtime Valley boy John Dickey. Hopefully, these shots will inspire you to explore the new frontier of bouldering… in Yosemite and beyond. CLICK HERE to view a sample map of the Candyland boulders from Matt Wilder’s NEW guidebook Yosemite Valley Bouldering, publsihed by SuperTopo

Yosemite Bests Months: October and November

Campground: Camp 4 (no reservations needed); you can shower in Curry Village

Eats: Curry Village Pizza Deck (see “Get Scrappy,” No. 258, for pizza-scrapping Beta)

Rest-day activity: Climb the Nose (VI 5.9 A2) of El Capitan; hunt for undeveloped boulders along the Mirror Lake Trail (Half Dome side)

Obscure problems from the new school:Presidential Traverse (VB) Double Decker (V2) Once Upon a Time (V3) Zorro (V4) Crossroads Moe (V6) Torque (V7) Heart of Darkness (V9) Across the Tracks (V10) Yabo Roof (V11) Shadow Warrior (V12)

Matt Wilder just returned from a two-month trip to the Rocklands, South Africa, where the quality of climbing is mind-boggling. He currently resides in Boulder, Colorado, and combs the Front Range for Colorado’s best… when not breaking down from his graduate studies in computer science, that is.