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Vanishing Point 2.0: A Classic Route Modernized

Ever since climbing Dolomite Tower, a subpeak of Mt. Baring, in 2017, I fell a little in love with that face. I hiked several of my friends and family out to Barclay Lake to show it off. The climbing on Vanishing Point, the one modern-ish route on the tower (put up in 1998 by Brian Burdo, and now fully modern thanks to 2020 efforts on it), is fun and the setting spectacular. Climbing it with my good friend Travis Kemp left an impression. I couldn’t forget it. And I wanted to experience it again or give back to the wall in some way that would encourage others to experience its magic as well.

Climbing Vanishing Point is serious. The approach is very technical and hard to get right even with good information. The climbing on the tower is hard, sustained, exposed, and sometimes straight-up dangerous. Travis and I got really spooked on pitch 5, when we realized a whole part of the pitch had fallen off, taking with it a few bolts. It took us over an hour to figure out how to get around it. We went into survival mode after that and climbed quickly to the top of the wall. There were runouts, a death flake, and hanging belays. We enjoyed it, but it felt real. I was scared to shit but afterwards thought it was the coolest wall I had ever climbed.

Fast forward to the insane year of 2020. I didn’t have climbing plans for the summer when the lockdowns happened this spring. I realized that I might not be able to leave Washington State this year, so I decided to revisit Dolomite Tower, with a trailhead only 1.5 hours from my place in Seattle. I convinced my good friend Mike Kerzhner to drive up from Portland to climb Vanishing Point again. Memories can be deceptive, so I wanted to re-remember what it was like up there.

Story of our June Climb

Mike and I woke up in Seattle at 5am, June 19th, made coffee and started driving. We were leaving the Barclay Lake trailhead around 7am. The first 20 minutes of the approach is spent on a flat trail in a beautiful forest—a mental warmup for what you’re about to experience. After about a mile, you’ll have to thank the trail for what it’s given you and brake right. Thankfully, if the approach is done correctly, there is minimal bush-whacking. Mike and I pushed through bushes for a few minutes to gain a boulder field, crossed it, and entered a wash. The wash takes you up to a gaping gully, which you avoid by escaping right on a ramp into a steep forest. In June, Mike and I were kick stepping up snow to gain the ramp.

Climbing the forest is my favorite part of the approach. If you’ve spent a lot of time on the walls in Squamish, you’ll feel right at home climbing up the jungle gym of tree roots. Brian Burdo, and probably other first ascensionists of Dolomite Tower and Mt. Baring routes, left behind several fixed lines to help haul yourself up the steep slope. They also serve as a nice guide. The ropes eventually take you up to a perch overlooking the gully and slabs that must be climbed to the base of the tower.

Mike and I packed all of our water, but we felt really silly for doing that once entering the gully. For the rest of the approach, flowing water was always nearby. And this flowing water made approaching that day a mini-epic for us.

We scrambled up the gully to approximately the spot where I remembered roping up and starting up a bolt-protected slab, but we couldn’t find the first bolt. We looked around for 20 minutes and still couldn’t find anything. I was starting to mentally prepare to turn around and bail. I roped up and started climbing up a slab that seemed to look right to see if a bolt would appear. It was wet and slippery, with no protection, so I didn’t make it very far before deciding to come back down. Mike thought a series of narrow ledges going out left looked promising. I knew that was not where the bolts would be, but I thought I might be able to protect it with gear. Right after I started out the ledges, Mike finally spotted the bolt we were looking for. It was in a waterfall right above us! It looked like the 2 pitches of bolted slab was completely running with water. There was no way we were going to make it through the runouts between bolts in a slabby waterfall, so I continued trying to find a way around. I ended up getting two pieces of gear in and slinging a finger’s width branch of a bush for about 200 feet of climbing. Not ideal.

We made it up the rest of the approach slabs, which included climbing through another waterfall and once going the wrong way up unprotected wet dirt. I was hoping the approach would feel easy the second time but because of the early season water and snow, it took longer and felt much scarier. I have since been back with Luke Stefurak to fix up the approach pitches. We put in a handful of bolts to protect the easier alternative route up the slabs (avoiding the waterfall early-season), and we installed rap anchors so that climbers can reverse the approach safely. Luke and I foreran the approach reversal and it felt great. Because an easier section of slab is now protectable, it’s pretty reasonable to climb the whole thing in approach shoes, which is really good news for our feet.

The climbing on Vanishing Point was mostly uneventful compared to the approach. The third runout was still scary, and the flare a little wet and desperate. We were able to easily climb around the section of roof that had fallen off on pitch 5. The eighth pitch was also still scary. The death flake on pitch 9 is still on the wall. By the time we got to the 5.12 pitch out the huge roof (pitch 11), we barely had enough left in the tank to get through it. Mike and I both didn’t fall, but we felt like we had to fight for it. We were 15 hours car-to-car, pretty reasonable if you’re trying to free climb every pitch. It’s a big climb.

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Mike on the pitch 3 flare (5.11+).

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Pitch 6 (5.11+).

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Mike starting out the huge roof on pitch 10 (5.11).

I had been on the route before so I was happy to send, but Mike onsighted, which hadn’t been done. I think we might have been the 3rd and 4th ascents of the route after Brian Burdo (FA, 1998) and Ben Gilkison (2012). I’m really curious if anyone else climbed it, let alone sent, between 1998 and 2012.

Vanishing Point 2.0

Vanishing Point was as good as I remembered but also scarier than I remembered. After climbing it again, I felt that certain decisions could be made to make it safe. Loose rock could be pulled off, sketchy flakes could be avoided (or pulled off!) and unnecessary runouts could be protected. The involved approach could be dumbed down as well.

Overall the rock is really good, and I think it’s just a matter of mindset. We’re used to immaculate granite out here and Dolomite Tower definitely is not that. It’s more featured and overhung, and the cracks are few and far between. But the position and the interesting face climbing make it truly worthwhile. I feel strongly that it is a gem in Washington, if not the country. If the Dolomite Tower was actually in the Dolomites, I’m sure it’d be littered with amazing routes.

Sure enough, through a group effort this summer, headed by Dan Kluskiewicz and Matt Corroll, Vanishing Point was modernized. Mike and I slipped in the last ascent of the “old” Vanishing Point experience.

All the anchors have been replaced and the rest of the protection has been updated to stainless steel. Dan and Matt placed two bolts to protect the unnecessary runout on pitch 3. On pitches 9/10, they re-routed the route slightly to avoid the “death flake.” Now you don’t have to touch it at all. There was a lot of discussion about whether to add a bolt to the runout on pitch 8, but Dan and Matt decided against it. Maybe it’s for the better to not dumb the route down too much. Pitch 8 will remain a mental crux of the route, but a much more reasonable one compared to what used to be on pitch 3.

The approach is much less committing too. Luke Stefurak and I took charge of making it safe and easier to follow. We updated the rap anchors and moved already existing fixed lines to better spots. A big mental aspect of climbing Vanishing Point before was feeling like you really didn’t want to reverse the approach. If you needed to bail, it seemed like it’d be better to bail upward. Now that’s not the case. Just turning around with a single 70m is safe. (We tried it!)

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Vanishing Point topo.

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Dolomite Tower approach overview.

Approach Beta

1. Start at the Barclay Lake trailhead.

2. Hike main trail to a bridge across large creek (about 1 mile). The creek is dry mid-to-late summer. Don’t cross it.

3. Before the main trail crosses the creek, break into forest to the right of a large boulder.

4. Walk through forest (no trail) till it opens up then bushwhack a little to boulder field.

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Looking back across the boulder field. The main trail is just in those trees.

5. Traverse boulder field until under some large trees and a open wash should appear.

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Looking up the wash (photo Luke Stefurak).

6. Climb wash to a steep, chossy, dirty waterfall. Climb around right side, staying out of bushes (exposed).

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The dirty waterfall. It’s steeper than it looks.

7. Continue up wash to a ramp which takes you up right into the forest before a gaping gully. There’s some hand lines on the ramp (exposed!).

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The ramp leaving the wash into the forested rib. The gaping gully is to the left.

8. Batman up first steep rope in forest and then head hard right. You should end up at a small rock face with a bolt and fixed lines.

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Mike climbing up the first fixed line in the forest.

9. Climb past bolt and head right again. Fixed lines then guide you the rest of the way to the top of the forest rib.

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Looking up at the slabs from the top of the forested rib. You must descend into the gully from here.

10. Descend into gulley. Climb gulley up and over a low 5th step with a fixed line attached to a bolt.

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The low 5th step in the gully (photo Luke Stefurak).

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Looking down the gully from the top of the low 5th step. The top of the forested rib is in view.

11. Continue up about 50m to where you need to rope up. You should see Burdo’s old bolt and a newer looking bolt to the left. Go left. Climbing straight up on Burdo’s old bolted slab line is possible late season (it’s a waterfall early season), but it’s harder and might require putting on climbing shoes!

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There is a bolt at the “X” now. Should be easy to spot from the gully (photo Luke Stefurak).

12. Climb left on ledges 10-15m and then up/right at the 2nd bolt. Climb past a 3rd bolt to a rap anchor (35m).

13. Continue up and right on easy slabs passing 3 bolts to a large ledge with a rap anchor (another 35m).

14. Coil up some of the rope and traverse the ledge left till you’re beneath a gully on the left side. There’s an exposed section early on the traverse with a bolt.

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Near the end of the ledge walk, looking up at the next 3 pitches of climbing (photo Luke Stefurak).

15. Start climbing below an old bolt. Climb past this bolt and up to a constriction with a rap anchor (30m). This constriction in the gulley is usually running with water.

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After the ledge traverse, this is the first of 3 pitches (photo Luke Stefurak). See the approach overview photo.

16. Continue up right side of gully (natural pro) to another rap anchor (35m).

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2nd pitch after from the ledge (photo Luke Stefurak).

17. Climb past old bolts on the 5.9 crux of the approach and up to an old anchor with a newer bolt beside it (30m).

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3rd pitch from the ledge (photo Luke Stefurak). This is the crux of the approach and it’s maybe 5.9 and protected well, albeit with old bolts. I was very comfortable climbing the pitch in approach shoes.

18. Unrope and scramble up and left to the base of the tower. Going left will lead you past some 4th class and an old Burdo anchor (maybe stay roped up for this option). Going straight (towards the wall) and then left will lead you to a a point where you can either climb dirt and trees or bushwhack around to the left to reach the base of the route. There’s broad ledge to relax on below the route.

If you nail the approach with this excellent beta, it should take about 3 hours to get to the base of the tower. There’s broad ledge to relax on below the route. If you walk along the wall left of the start of Vanishing Point, you should be able to find running water through mid-July.


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En Passant (5.14a FA), Index, Washington. Photo by Andy Wickstrom.

Interview with Steven Dimmitt

I had the chance to sit down with Steven Dimmitt to talk about my approach to climbing. Steven started The Nugget Climbing Podcast earlier this year, and it’s already taken off. He’s a natural at asking thoughtful questions. He sees himself as “the curious person” and wants to share that curiosity through this podcast. I felt like I was able to share what motivates me quite candidly with him. Little do you know that he is also quite a skilled rock climber! Humble dude. Check him out!

Here’s a link to the episode shownotes.


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Mike Kerzhner on Vanishing Point (5.12 VI), Dolomite Tower, Washington.

Training Using Circuits

A circuit is a group of boulders designed to create a certain experience. In a competition, a circuit of 4 or 5 boulders is designed to separate the competitors, find a ranking, and to produce an exciting show for spectators. In a climbing gym, a circuit usually represents a diverse group of boulders of approximately the same level or grade. Outside, there could be a “highball” (tall boulder) circuit or a “5-star” (classics) circuit, for example. A circuit could be anything.

Circuits were invented in the early 1900s in Fontainebleau, France, as a way to train for mountain climbing. Transportation to the mountains was not as quick and easy as it is now so the Parisian mountaineers needed a way to train locally. Problem was that they only had access to little boulders! Nobody “bouldered” like we do today—it was all about getting to the summits of high mountains back then. Climbing boulders was silly and pointless until someone discovered that they could be useful for training. They figured out that using a marked group of boulders, usually 40 to 60 in length, climbers could move through them and roughly replicate the sustained effort required to climb a mountain.

Bouldering has since evolved quite a bit and so have the ways and varieties of using circuits. Just like bouldering V-grades, circuits are a tool to guide climbers. But circuits have become obscure in favor of pushing grades. Circuits take a step back from grades and focus on the experience, and ask helpful and fun questions like: Are you well rounded across many styles? Do you have enough endurance? Can you just enjoy climbing for a moment without trying to achieve a certain grade?

I want to show you here how to maximize the use of the circuit tool. The creation of a circuit experience does not only belong to guidebook authors or routesetters. You are a co-creator. In this document I will specifically focus on how you can create and use circuits for your physical and mental training.

Endurance Circuits

This is where it all started: mountaineers needing to replicate the endurance effort of climbing a huge wall using a bunch of tiny boulders. The endurance circuit is the original circuit. For multipitch and big wall climbers, the benefits of doing endurance circuits are obvious. For sport climbing, endurance training, like strength and power, is an essential building block that can be trained year-round.

Endurance training improves you aerobic capacity, which for climbers means your ability to climb at a higher grade without getting “pumped.” This means you’ll spend less time in the “red zone,” the anaerobic ticking clock. When you’re in endurance zone, you can pretty much go forever.

Endurance circuits can be done in less than an hour with little to no warm up, like going out for a run. They provide similar benefits to running and other cardiovascular activities, but with the specificity to climbing. If you’re getting pumped training endurance, you’re no longer training endurance, but power-endurance. You should be climbing at a low intensity on boulders you never fall from. Start with 30 boulders and progress toward 50-60. You should be doing a boulder every 30-60 seconds. The shorter the rest time, the better. You should feel like you’re continuously moving, like going out for a run!

Use the Bouldering Project specific Circuit Assessment at the end of the document to estimate your endurance circuit. If you don’t climb at a Bouldering Project, take the grade you consistently climb in 1-2 tries and climb boulders in the 3-grade range 1 to 3 below. For example, if you consistently climb V4 in a couple tries, you’re endurance circuit is likely V0-2 or V1-3. If you usually climb V7 in a couple tries, try a V2-4 or V3-5 circuit. If you’re new to endurance training, you may have to go lower. If you are climbing the circuit properly, you should not accumulate a pump. At the end of the circuit, you should feel a bit fatigued, but not pumped. Error toward climbing easier boulders.

Power-Endurance Circuits

Power endurance (PE) is often what we feel to be lacking on a sport route. Our forearms feel like they are going to burst and sometimes we can’t even hold onto jugs! Training it extends the “ticking clock” I referred to earlier and improves your ability to deal with a pump.

PE is unique because unlike strength, power, and endurance, it can only be increased for a short amount of time before continuing to train it does close to nothing for you. The best way to deal with the PE problem long-term is actually to make holds feel better (strength training), the moves easier (power training), and to increase the level you can climb without starting to get pumped (endurance training). Because of this, I recommend training these three systems year-round, and only training PE when you really need it. It only takes a month of consistent PE training to reach a “peak.” When I know I’ll need PE for a competition, a climbing trip, or for the fall season climbing locally, I’ll do 3-4 weeks of training to ramp it back up. You can maintain peak PE for a bit, maybe 2-3 weeks, but after that it will naturally ebb and flow. It’s best to accept and roll with this natural rhythm.

There are many ways to train PE. Too many, in fact. I’ll focus here on two circuit-based methods. The first method looks pretty similar to the endurance circuit, but with harder boulders and a bit more rest. The grade range should have an upper limit of the grade you consistently climb in 1-2 tries. If you are a consistent V5 climber, climb a circuit of V3-V5. Your rest time should be about 1 minute between boulders. Once you hit 3 tries, move on. In total, you should climb 20-30 boulders.

The second method is an interval method that I created for my needs as a sport climber. I took the 4x4, a well-known training method, and adapted it into a circuit. Usually for a 4x4 you choose 4 different boulders that are sustained in nature (overhung and not cruxy), with minimal low-percentage moves (no dynos, no bad feet, no stabs to slots, etc.), and you rehearse them into submission. Then you climb them back-to-back with no rest. Take a rest for about as long as you were climbing (usually 2-3 minutes) and repeat. Basically you are attempting to isolate the physical by controlling for the mental and technical. Because of this, you get a great workout, and 4 sets is usually plenty because the intensity is so high.

I think 4x4s are great, but I prefer making a spray wall loop of 20-30 moves because I can control the variables even more and take rest between boulders out completely. When it comes to climbing on actual set boulders I prefer the method that I created because it targets mental, physical, and technical skills all at once, just like real rock climbing does. The goal is to climb a circuit of 20-30 boulders in chunks of 3 or 4 at a time. Rest time is exactly like a 4x4: no rest between boulders (chalk up only) and a rest equal to climbing time between sets (2-3 minutes). If you do it with a partner, you can use each other to time your rest. While your partner is climbing their 3 or 4 boulders, you rest and cheer them on. As soon as they are done, you start your next set. Because you’ll be moving through the whole gym or climbing area, you’ll end up on some slabs, sometimes climbing problems you’ve never seen, and sometimes trying low-percentage boulders with bad feet right at the start. So you’re going to fall. Before you start, decide if you’re going to allow yourself 1 to 3 tries per boulder. I find it best to allow up to 3 attempts if the move you fall on is low to the ground. If I fall near the top of the boulder and felt like it was a good attempt, then I’ll move on. Because the physical intensity varies with the change in wall angles, you can do more sets than you would with a 4x4, up to 10, but generally around 5 to 8.

I can’t stress how important it is to value developing mental and technical skills in your training. Climbing is a skill-based sport more than it is physically requiring, even though it feels very physically requiring (it’s a trick!). That’s one reason we find it so fun: because of how varied its requirements are. The reality of outdoor (and modern competition climbing) is that there are awkward moves and weird feet. You need to be able to make quick and confident decisions when your body is screaming at you to let go. With either of these methods of PE circuiting, the question is equally about whether you can keep it together on the slabs, through the complex sequences, and across all climbing styles as it is about holding on. Sounds like rock climbing, right?

One-Shot Circuit

The one-shot circuit shifts the focus even more from physical to mental. Can you perform on the spot with only “one-shot?” Can you quickly respond to what the boulder requires of you? If not, then sorry, attempt wasted. You don’t get another.

I love the one-shot circuit because it feels like you’re putting something on the line with the 1-attempt limit. Its playful. It forces you to slow down and ponder the boulder before getting on it. What will be required? How does it climb? At what sections will I have to apply more foot pressure? When will I have to try really hard?

Visualization is a helpful tool when it comes to performing on the spot. It is best to imagine yourself in the first person (not third), and try to replicate how you’ll feel as closely as possible. What parts of your body will tense up? What emotions will you feel? Try moving your body and arms on the ground in the way you think you’ll have to move through the boulder. If you’re climbing with a partner, talk through the boulder with them before getting on it. The more details you can recreate in your mind, the better. And imagine success! I’m not encouraging over-confidence, but if you don’t actually believe you can do something, you’re chances of doing it are low. Be realistically optimistic. Many people ask me what you do if you’re wrong about how a route will feel or go. The answer is you adjust on the fly: make a quick decision and execute. This intuitive skill only comes from experience. So climb more and in new situations often.

The ideal one-shot circuit will contain boulders a notch higher than your power endurance circuit. So if you consistently climb V4 in a couple goes, climb a circuit comprised of V3-V5s. You might get a gimme here and there, but you should have to fight for most of your sends. You will fall, a lot. It’s OK if you’re success rate is less than 50%. Your rest time can be as long as you need, but will likely be between 2-5 minutes. You shouldn’t get pumped because you want to be able to perform at your best for every boulder. You’ll probably want to attempt around 20-30 boulders.

Limit Circuit

With this last circuit we’ll have spanned everything you need to train to become a better climber. A limit circuit is just a structured way to project and try a group of hard boulders. The purpose is to try, and fail, on hard moves. The limit circuit could be done at your
“redpoint circuit” or “project circuit” levels (see Circuit Assessment at the end of the article). You should attempt 5-10 boulders and attempt each 3-5 times. Because you will only climb a handful or so of boulders, you can focus on wall angles, climbing styles, or hold types that you need to work on. You could create a hard slab circuit, a dyno circuit or a sloper circuit.

This limit effort is the key to building strength and power. Strength refers to our ability to hold on to a hold and can be specifically trained on the hangboard. But targeting weaknesses like crimps or slopers through bouldering is possibly just as effective because of the additional movement skills you will pick up by doing real climbing. Just try hard boulders with the hold type you are weak at. Power refers to our ability to move between holds. The only way to effectively train power is by…moving between holds. This is bouldering. Overall, it is more beneficial to train strength and power through bouldering than by doing off-the-wall exercise like weighted pull-ups, hangboarding, and campusing. For very high level athletes looking for small gains, these exercise can be important, but for the rest of us, it’s probably better to spend our limited time climbing.

To conclude, I have attempted to give general guidelines and loose boundaries to create your own circuit experience. Below is a Bouldering Project specific Circuit Assessment that can be easily adapted to other gyms. Simply circle the percentage range of boulders you can climb within a given circuit and check the key at the bottom. Be creative, use your intuition, and have fun!

Circuit Assessment PDF