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A Bit of “Pre-Season” Climbing…

Wow.  It has been TWO months since I last posted here…I think that’s a record!  Our summer has been busy, but mostly with family beach vacations and pool/water park adventures.  Exciting and fun?  Of course!  But fit for a climbing blog – not so much.  Speaking of climbing, fall is quickly approaching, and WE. CANNOT. WAIT.  Those first few fall trips are always like a bird being let out of a cage to see if its wings really work.  We’ve been gym rats all summer – hangboarding, core work, and even an impromptu bouldering comp.  Soon it’ll be time to get out and see if it did us any good.  

Getting horizontal during Mating Season 11d

We got a sneak peek at fall this past weekend…sort of.  With a few passing rain showers and a lingering mist over most of Saturday, conditions could hardly be called “crisp.”  But mountain highs in the 70’s at least made for more friendly temps than the typical smothering August heat waves.  We had no agenda other than to get back on a rope and get our family hiking legs back into shape.  

A happy little hiker with Mr. Nick, one of her faves.

Saturday morning the whole cliff was socked in with fog, and even rock that stays dry in a downpour was still wet due to condensation (aka “rock sweat.”)  But we managed to find enough pitches to satisfy us for one day.  Best route of the day was Mating Season 11d, a technical face that led to a big roof.  (You can also stop at the rainy day anchors before the roof for a great 11b face climb.)  We moved on after one attempt, but after seeing how wet everything else was, by the end of the day we were wishing we’d kept the draws on for a send attempt.  We also tried Trans-Vest-Tights on the Chocolate Wall, an 11a face climb with a 12a extension that climbs a steep, crimpy headwall.  CragDaddy bailed on the extension due to unforeseen wet holds, but his report was that it’s well worth returning to in dryer conditions.  (I, however, am not sold on the lower part…it was pretty heady in a reachy kinda way for both myself and our other climbing partner of similar height.)  Also worth noting on the Chocolate Wall was Fudge 12c, a 4 star route that was advertised as “probably 13a for shorter persons.”  Never hurts to try though, right?  CragDaddy and I were both feeling great on all the moves until reaching the last bolt.  Then we both got completely shut down.  Despite every combination of beta we tried, it seemed like we were always short one foot, one hand hold, etc.  I guess it’s back to the gym to train for that one…or maybe just not get back on it.  If I’m gonna put 5.13 effort into something, I’d like to get 5.13 credit for it ;).  

Big C contemplating life on the face of Stallion 5.5

Day 2 brought no rain and a lot more sun, and by the end of the day, all but the seepiest of routes were dry.  Turns out CragDaddy and I, as well as our extra partner, all got a second chance sending go at Mating Season (well, 2nd AND third chance for me due to a hand hold breaking mid-crux, but it eventually went!)  We also thrashed around on the classic Blues Brothers 12a.  Definitely a good climb worth coming back to, but I’ll wait til the fall when the giant, furry spiders are all hiding away too deep for my hands to reach.   

CragDaddy working through Blues Brothers 12a

Last climb of the day was Meatballs 5.12a/b, a short but sweet line on the (you guessed it…) Meat Wall.  It shares a start with another classic – Possum Tongues of Aspic 12c, that we are potentially interested in for this fall.  Both climbs begin with a full-wingspan move that was actually far easier than it looked, then the former takes a right across a sea of incut crimps, while the latter tackles the blunt arete.  Considering it’s still “pre-season” and my endurance is no where near where it needs to be yet, I felt really good about making it to the last bolt (crux) on my flash attempt.  Meatballs packs A LOT of movement into a relatively short expanse of rock – great for training finger endurance.  I rehearsed the upper half of the route as I lowered and got it all clean, so I felt optimistic about a 2nd go send, but I wasted too much time looking for a foothold midway through, and found myself falling just before I could latch the finishing jug.  I’ll definitely get on it again this fall, when hopefully I’ll be in better shape and it’ll go down pretty easily.  

Stretched out like spaghetti on Meatballs 5.12a/b

Can’t wait for SEND-tember!  What projects are YOU putting work into this fall?

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Extend Your Performance Peak with a Micro-Cycle

By Mark Anderson

You may recall from this post that I had an abnormally long and successful Fall 2016 climbing season. Typically after I send a hard project I take along break from climbing, but I sent my season goal-route (Shadowboxing) so early in the Fall 2016 season that I was still stoked to continue working (and hopefully sending) hard routes. In the past I’ve had great success sustaining high levels of power and fitness through regular Maintenance Training (discussed extensively here). That approach works well when you can count on many, regularly-spaced indoor training days, in which you are able to train long and hard. However, my outdoor days on Shadowboxing were too intense to permit quality maintenance training during my rare and sporadic indoor training days.

The other problem was that Shadowboxing was basically a long enduro climb, whereas most of my remaining projects were short power-fests. I had trained my body for endurance climbing and deliberately neglected power. I felt like I needed to top-off my power to have a chance at these projects, and widen my fitness base if I wanted to extend the effective length of my season into November.

After 8 weeks of training for Rifle endurance, I used a Micro Cycle to re-tune my power for short burly routes like 7 Minute Abs.

In order to accomplish those two training goals, I designed a “Micro-Cycle”—in this case a 17-day cycle (including rest days) that included Strength, Power, and PE sessions. My Micro-Cycle is illustrated below in the yellow box of Weeks 9-11 (Note, for detailed explanations of Weeks 1-8, see this post):

I started with a mini-Strength Phase, which included two full, “normal” 6-grip Hangboard workouts.  My third workout was a hybrid between Strength and Power Endurance (PE), comprised of a 4-grip Hangboard workout (including the four grips I felt were most relevant to my upcoming goals), then a 45-minute rest, followed by 3-sets of Route Intervals (for tedious details on my Route Interval, see this post).

Next I transitioned into a mini, hybrid Power and PE Phase. The “LB/C + PE” days consisted of ~45 minutes of bouldering (including Warmup Boulder Ladder, Hard Bouldering, and Limit Bouldering), then ~30-40 minutes of Campusing, followed by 3 or 4-sets of Route Intervals. The “LB/C” day included longer durations of bouldering and Campusing, without any PE training.  Note that I wrapped up every training session with 2-3 sets of my typical assortment of Supplemental Exercises.

The Micro-Cycle worked pretty well. On paper I was just as strong on October 3rd as I was on September 4th, and just as fit on October 11th as I was on September 20th. On the rock, I continued to climb well through mid-November, FA-ing the powerful 5.14b Double-O Ninja on November 4th, a full two months after the end of my initial, full Strength Phase. Normally I would be well past my peak (especially my power peak) at that point. Ultimately the limiting factor in my season seemed to be motivation—at times I struggled to stick to the training plan and continue going to the crag, especially in the wake of so much success (I realize that may sound counter-intuitive, or at least pompous, but in my case I tend to want to relax after sends, and often find failure more inspiring).

After two months of training for long pump-fests, a short and sweet “Micro-Cycle” helped re-tune my fitness for short, powerful routes like Double-O Ninja.

The next time you find yourself motivated to extend a Performance Peak, give your power a quick boost, or fine-tune your fitness to suit a particular goal route, consider a Micro-Cycle such as this. Keep in mind the workouts, frequencies, and scheduling described here are just one example. These variables can be manipulated in many ways to accommodate different goals.

New Front Range Moderates at “The Aqueduct”

by Mark Anderson

With summer in full swing, I’m always on the lookout for crags that are high and shady. I’ve had my eye on just such a crag at the very top of Clear Creek Canyon for a few years now. This chunk of rock is plainly obvious when approaching Clear Creek from the west, but its sky-scraping position roughly 1000-feet above the river (at an elevation of ~8000’) has discouraged the lazy sport climber in me from doing much about it.

High above the river on Well Done Sergeant, 5.11a, at The Aqueduct. Photo © Nicholas Zepeda

Earlier this year I finally hiked up the impressively long and steep hillside to investigate the crag. Although most of the cliff was too broken or low-angled to be of interest to me, I found a couple walls with great rock and some interesting features. Just as importantly, I discovered a much better approach.

Luckily for my knees, Clear Creek County Open Space acquired the large parcel of land between the cliff and I-70 in the spring. This allows for a much easier approach from the saddle at Floyd Hill through the Open Space (still not trivial though, about 20 minutes with ~300 feet of elevation gain).The formation is massive, and has cliffs facing in just about every direction, but the best cliffs are generally west-facing, staying in the shade till around noon. There are currently two developed sectors which are a few hundred feet apart. The lower, northern-most wall, dubbed the “Committee Wall” consists of long-ish, more or less vertical panels of solid, well-featured rock. The routes on this wall are in the 5.10- to 5.11 range, with generally consistent difficulty and fun climbing.

Climbing One Total Catastrophe is Just the Beginning, 11b, at the Committee Wall. Photo © Nicholas Zepeda

Kate cruising Well Done Sergeant, 11a

Boer nearing the chains of This Calls For Immediate Discussion, 10c. Photo © Nicholas Zepeda

The southern sector (“Wabble of Wowdy Webels Wall”) is much shorter, but overhanging, with bullet stone, littered with incut edges. These routes are all excellent despite their brevity. The two 5.12s climb on incredible rock, featuring fun, dynamic boulder problems to reach the lip of the overhang. The best line on this sector is probably Fight the Oppressors, which climbs the stunning, jutting arête on the far right edge of the wall. The prow overhangs on both sides, but thanks to perfectly positioned incut jugs, the difficulty is never much harder than 5.10.

 

Cruising the short but sweet jutting prow of Fight the Oppressors, 11a.

Boer sticking the big dyno on The Meek Are the Problem, 12a.

Straining through the crux of Solidarity Brother, 12b.

Thanks to Nicholas Zepeda for his great work shooting some of these routes. To see more of his work, please checkout his website.

Climbing in Italy – Finale Ligure Part 2

By Mark Anderson

Pyro, 7b, at Grotta della Strapatente.

Messalina, 7a+, Domus Aurea.

For our last climbing day of the trip, we chose the region around the village of Boragni. This area has a wide selection of crags within a small area, and also seemed to offer some of the best tufa climbing in Finale. It also offered another spelunking adventure for the kids, with two crags connected by a 100m-long cave (fortunately this cave didn’t require any fixed lines or scrambling).

Commuting between Domus Aurea and Grotta della Strapatente.

The first crag we visited is called Domus Aurea. This was a small crag with only a few routes, but it has a nice curtain of steep tufas. After warming up, we headed to the phenomenal Grotta della Strapatente. This cliff is famous for an 8b+ (5.14a) called En Attendant Berhault that climbs through a horizontal roof on big stalactites, but we were here for the amazing wall of flowstone to the right. I climbed some truly fantastic tufas on this trip, but these were the most fun.

Climbing Pyro, 7b, on the amazing wall of tufas at Grotta della Strapatente.

My favorite route on the wall was a snaking 7b called Pyro. The route flowed seamlessly—just when one tufa ends, an incut pocket appears to link the movement into the next tufa. The route was never super hard, but continuous and sequential. The tufas on this route were incredible—it seemed like each drip was sculpted with a climber’s hand in mind. It was easily the best route I did in Finale.

Memobox, 7b, another great tufa line at Strapatente.

Kate enjoying the heavily-pocketed start of Memobox.

After a few more of the wall’s stellar tufas, we packed up one more time and headed back down the hill to a stacked cliff of moderates called “Bastinata sinistra Boragni.” The cliff is enormous, with pitches reaching 40m, a few multi-pitch lines, and over 70 routes from 5.8 to 5.12. It was a great hang for kids, with a nice open base, and they both fell fast asleep as soon as we arrived.

Where’s Waldo…?

…there he is. Copping a rest in one of the many pockets of Panorama, 7a+

The climbing varied from steep slabs to very-slightly-overhanging walls covered in pockets. Some of these pockets were huge incut jugs, some just looked like that from below. Silt from runoff was problematic on some of the routes, but most of the lines were long and clean. The best route we did was a popular 40m 5.10 called Change the World. I had to scrounge up every draw and sling, back-clean a few bolts, and skip some others, but it was a fun and airy journey.

Kate at the bulging crux of Change the World, 6b, at Bastionata sinistra Boragni.

Of all the places we visited, I find myself most inclined to return to Finale. Not because the climbing was the best—it wasn’t, but because the lifestyle was so relaxing. Minimal driving, a wide variety of routes, and very few crowds. Even when the climbing is bad (it never was), you can look forward to capping off the day with a casual stroll along the beach and enjoying a delicious meal. It would be a great place to live as a retired climber—lifetimes worth of routes to climb, with none of the hassle of other venues.

Higher on Change the World’s endless sea of pockets.  The anchor is still out of the frame!

All told, it was an awesome climbing vacation.  We visited a ton of new crags, saw some amazing sights, and had a great time.  Generally we fizzle out at the end of these trips–ending up exhausted and longing for home.  That never happened on this trip.  The kids were really well-behaved the entire time, and relatively self-sufficient.  At 6 and almost-4, it feels like we’re through the tunnel from a “climbing with kids” perspective, and our horizons are broadening once again.  They managed many long days (and long approaches) with few complaints.  Another important improvement over previous trips was that we rented houses in both destinations.  I wasn’t sure how that would pan out, but it worked really well and was surprisingly affordable.  It made everything less stressful and eliminated the problem of finding food outside of normal business hours (the crux of our earliest trips).  The downside of this approach is that it restricts your travel range, but fortunately we found two base camps with a wide variety of incredible sights and crags.  It seemed like we could have stayed forever, and I’d be happy to return to either.

Castle of the Day: Vernazza, along the infamous Cinque Terra trail. We hiked from Monterosso (visible along the shore at center) to Corniglia (8Km total), which Logan managed with no assistance, minimal whining, and just a wee bit of bribery (a Police Boat Lego set).

 

Kitty’s Back (in Clear Creek)

By Mark Anderson

Topcat, one of three new routes atop the Catslab in Clear Creek Canyon, CO.

Over the winter I bolted three routes on the steep visor that sits high above the “Catslab” in upper Clear Creek. This feature looks like a roof from the ground, but it’s more like a convex bulge, gradually sweeping from about 60-degrees overhanging at the base up to ~30 degrees at the top. The business overhangs right around 45-degrees.

Once we returned from Europe I finally got around to trying the routes. In a nutshell, all three of them offer really fun movement in a spectacular setting on subpar rock. Like most steep routes in Clear Creek, you have to weave around some mungy ledges and cracks to reach the goods. Fortunately the rock improves steadily once on the visor, and notwithstanding the typical Clear Creek exfoliating flaky stuff, the rock is pretty good where it counts (and totally bullet on the headwall above the visor).

Each of these routes has a distinct character. The first line I climbed is the middle route, Kitty’s Back. This line is incredibly fun, pretty much a complete jug haul. The line follows a system of exfoliating flakes, with super steep off-balance/barn door-y liebacking. The flakes end with one long huck right at the top of the overhang, followed by more fun jugs up the beautiful headwall. The rock at the start is marginal, but it improves substantially and is bomber in the crux and beyond. I reckon this goes at about 13a, and would be classic if the rock were consistently good.

Fingerlocking onto the steep visor on Catlong.

The next route I tried is the right-most line, which follows a seam through the steep wall. Catlong is pretty unusual for Clear Creek in that the crux requires some gymnastic finger locking (if that’s a thing). Although it has its fair share of exfoliating flakey stuff to either side of the seam, the handholds are all solid, generally large features. Unfortunately you have to weave through a 6-foot-tall band of dusty ledges just below the start of the overhang. There are solid hand jugs through this obstacle but your feet will be pasting on scaly, sandy stone. Above, the climbing is really cool and exotic if you like crack climbing. It begins with a long reach from a finger lock to reach a big jug rail, then the crux comes next with sequential moves and an overhead heel hook to set up another bomber finger lock. Next you get to do some hip scums, wild stemming and even a kneebar, all with a steadily building pump. The climb ends with large but well-spaced crimps on the headwall, checking in around 13c.

Steep, fun pretzel climbing on Catlong.

The final route, Top Cat, is the furthest left. Against all odds it turned out to be the best, with good rock throughout, and really fun, athletic climbing. It’s also the hardest, with two difficult dynos. The most powerful move is a burly stab to a half-pad crimp at the second bolt, after which heel hooks and big lock-offs between good-for-the-grade holds lead into the redpoint crux–a crossing drive-by to reach the 4th bolt. Although it’s short, it’s completely sustained from the moment you step off the slab. I think its at the low end 5.14a.

Powerful lock-offs on Top Cat, 5.14a.

Meow if that doesn’t get you stoked for rock climbing, perhaps this will:

Climbing in Italy – Finale Ligure Part 1

By Mark Anderson

Climbing Camera Con Vista (Room with a view), 7a, Finale Ligure.

Climbing in Italy has long been a mystery to me. I knew there was climbing—a lot of climbing—I just didn’t know anything specific about it. For whatever reason I knew much more about the sport crags of Germany, France and Spain. Some quick internet research revealed Finale Ligure, in the Liguria region of the Italian Riviera, was a highly recommended spot.

Playing on the Beach in Finalmarina.

The Finale region is spectacular, nestled in a set of tight valleys right on the Mediterranean Sea (some of the crags climb directly over the water). Finale is also renowned as a mountain biking destination, and the village of Finalborgo (where we stayed) was always bustling with adventure-seekers like ourselves. In the small piazza where we went for pizza, beer and gelato (not necessarily in that order) there were six different climbing shops and just as many MTB shops.

The cliff-covered valleys above Finalborgo.

Within a 15 minute drive of Finalborgo are hundreds of crags with thousands of routes. The rock is white, gray and sometimes orange limestone, covered in small pockets and the occasional tufa. The routes are entirely bolted, but there are many expansive cliffs covered in multi-pitch lines. The cliffs tend toward steep slabs with many vertical to slightly-overhanging walls, and the most appealing routes are in the French 6-7 range (5.10-5.12). According to our guidebook, polished rock is a bit of a problem at certain crags, but we never found it to be an issue.

El Diablo in Grotta dell’edera. This is fairly typical of the rock in Finale—generally white to light grey, near vertical, with many small pockets. Photo Logan Anderson.

I had pretty low expectations for the climbing, based on the few pictures I’d seen. The routes looked thin, tweaky and old-school. The two days we spent climbing there completely changed my view.   Every route I climbed was excellent and many of them were outstanding. While there were some thin and tweaky routes and some runouts, we also found amazing tufa curtains and walls covered in jugs. Even the less featured lines were fantastic technical challenges on amazing rock.

However, the best thing going for Finale is the atmosphere. It reminded me of Tonsai Beach in Thailand, where you can drop your pack on the beach, climb world-class limestone, then walk 15 steps to the bar and eat a great meal with a beer for pennies on the dollar. Finale wasn’t quite that convenient, but on the other hand, you don’t need Malaria pills. The climbing in Finale is equally relaxed, with the sea never far away and a great evening on the boardwalk or piazza to cap off every day.

The best part of Finale climbing was the ambiance. Eating phenomenal pizza in our garden in Finalborgo.

Grotta dell’edera (Ivy Cave) was the one “must-visit” crag on our list. It’s a collapsed cave, resulting in a near-perfect cylinder of limestone open to the sky. There’s a “window” on the southwest side of the cylinder that forms an archway across the cylinder. If that wasn’t peculiar enough, the Grotta is accessed by climbing 50 meters through a proper cave (with some steep scrambling thrown in along the way).

Amelie and I spelunking on the approach to Grotta dell’edera.

Looking up at the roof of Grotta dell’edera.

The perfectly-named Camera Con Vista (Room with a view), 7a. The “window” is to my left, and there is another mini-cylinder (with three routes inside and a skylight) to my right. Photo Amelie Anderson.

Kate cruising Bombolo, 6b, in the mini-cylinder inside Grotta dell-edera. Photo Logan Anderson.

Higher on Bombolo, a classic jughaul with wild stemming and some tufa action. Photo Logan Anderson.

The climbing in the Grotta was fantastic in its own right, but the setting made every route extra special. I climbed several great tufa lines and set up a thrilling rope swing for the kids that the other climbers seemed to get a kick out of (the place was packed relative to the rest of our trip—there were 8 other climbers, with us making 12 people to share 14 routes). The best route I did was a dead-vertical, slightly concave 7b with small incut pockets and tricky stemming called Lubna.

El Diablo, 7b. The Climber in the orange helmet is on the mega-classic technical masterpiece Lubna. Photo Logan Anderson.

Amelie’s rope swing.

Logan getting in on the climbing.

Logan preparing to take a big swing.  The higher you climb, the better the swing.

The (hiking) approach to the Grotta was long, hot and miserable. Frankly we were all in a terrible mood when we got there. If there’s one downside to Finale, it’s that the approaches can be long, steep and complicated. Other than that, it’s the perfect family climbing destination, with routes for climbers of all abilities and lots of fun rest day activities for kids. Fortunately the rough approach was a distant memory by the end of the day. We all had such a great time between the cave, the swings and the climbing that we would love to return. Back in Finalborgo we capped off the day with literally the best pizza I’ve ever had. Logan and Amelie picked lemons from the garden and Kate made lemonade. It was the perfect climbing day.

Castle of the Day: Dolceaqua, easily the best medieval village of the trip, with a maze of narrow winding passageways. The Ponte Vecchio bridge shown here was memorialized in this painting by Monet.

 

(FINALLY!) Back at the NRG

It only took us until the middle of June this year, but we FINALLY made it back up to one of our favorite places in the entire world this past weekend.  All spring it seemed we had one logistical issue after another – weather, partners, schedules, you name it.  The only other time we’ve gone this long without climbing at the New River Gorge was the year Little Zu was born, when we skipped spring/summer up there entirely and waited til fall.  But now all is right in the world.  It may be too little too late when it comes to enjoying “the season” up there, but at least we got one fix in before the summer heat and humidity takes over.  

Narcissus 12a

Considering the hot, sunny forecast, we opted to spend Day 1 at Summersville Lake.  Nothing like a gorgeous water backdrop that you can melt into at the end of the day!  We started our day getting some redemption on an area classic, Satisfaction Guaranteed 11a.  CragDaddy and I had both bailed off this route way back in 2010.  He was 50+ pounds heavier at the time, and I was just 5 months postpartum…but we had no issues with it on Saturday, and now we’re satisfied ;).

Kiddos playing pirates (and “shooting” passing boats with a “driftwood gun.”)

Next was Narcissus 12a.  I’d also been on this one before, back in 2012, though it was a bolt to bolt run that was nowhere close to a legitimate sending attempt.  This route is touted as a must-do for the grade, and after my recent successes on the steeps this spring, I was optmistic that it could go down in a day.  My first run, however, was not as smooth as planned, and I struggled more than I’d wanted to on a couple of sections.  My second run felt great – I was clean all the way up to the last deadpoint move.  

For me the line boils down to 3 hard sections – a long move off crimps, a choice between 2 boulder problems (one going left, one going right…I go right), and a big deadpoint off a small sidepull.  The finish is steep and pumpy, with giant, flat holds that SHOULD be good enough if you can just keep yourself together…but it’s by no means a sure thing, and I know at least one person that has whipped at the chains.  

Kaos 12c

My third go was shaky, potentialy because I tried out some new clipping beta for the 3rd bolt…something just didn’t feel right, and I fell moving into the boulder problem.  In the back of my mind I was thinking I perhaps had missed my “sending window,” but there was still plenty of time left in the day, so I hopped on it again.  I went back to my original clipping beta, and the lower moves flowed a lot better.  When I got to the deadpoint move, I made sure to get my right foot as high as it could go, and tossed for all I was worth…and it was enough!  The finish was uneventful, and I lowered off with a smile on my face, and a right forearm that continued to feel pumped for the next 12 hours.  

The rest of my day was spent in the water with the kiddos, while the rest of our crew finished up the day on the Long Wall.  Big shout out to Little Zu for hiking almost the entire way out of the crag…barefoot.  There were MANY hiking bears involved, but she powered through until the last downhill bit to the parking lot, where I carried her in my arms like a baby, and she went from hiking to sleeping in a matter of 300 feet.  

I’m not sure what’s going on here but it looks fun!

Day 2 dawned equally sunny and a smidge warmer even, so off to Kaymoor we went to find shade.  I hopped on Boing 10d, which is one of my favorites, then moved over to Control 12a.  CragDaddy had already sent Control on a previous trip last spring, so he decided to put in some work on Kaos 12c, and after a few burns, he was able to do all the moves and link the lower section.  I’d taken a couple of burns on Control once before (the same day CragDaddy had sent), so I was hopeful I’d be able to put it all together.  I took a run up to hang draws, and felt even better about my chances.  Then I proceeded to fall at the SAME FREAKIN’ MOVE on the next FOUR redpoint attempts.  Each story was the same – get through the opening bit, crimp hard on the traverse, get feet set for the crux move, lunge…..and fall.  Then hang for a few seconds, pull back on, and fire the move like it was no big deal.  For whatever reason, I just could NOT do that move on point!  

In hindsight, I think the problem can be blamed on “not enough NRG time” lately.  If you’ve been there, you know…the New requires so much more focus than the same grade at pretty much any other sport crag I’ve ever been to.  Each time I fell on Control, my crew and I noticed some sort of subtle nuance of body position that I was doing differently when I was coming in hot, versus trying the move off the hang.  Obviously, when you’re at your limit, every bit of technique helps no matter what crag you’re climbing at…but NRG is the only place where I consistently have to stay focused on so MANY minute details for the ENTIRE climb, as opposed to just one or two moves.  Nothing is a gimme at the New!  That said, I THINK I have the beta dialed down to the letter for next time on Control….that is, if I can get myself psyched to get on it again!  

Control 12a

The thing that I’ve learned about the New River Gorge is that it can be frustratingly unpredictable when it comes to doling out sends.  The day before, my efforts were rewarded on Narcissus.  The next day, not so much, despite putting in what felt like the same, if not MORE effort.  The great thing is that sending or not sending really has zero importance in the grand scheme of life.  😉

And with that said, I’m so thankful for his place, and I’m so glad we got a chance to go back before the heat got too ridiculous.  Hopefully the logistics will work out a little better for us in the fall, and we’ll be able to rack up some back to back trips during prime conditions.  But, until then, you can find us dividing our time between the gym and the pool for the next couple of weeks!  

 

Related Images:

[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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Low Gravity Days at Hidden Valley

Crux move on Gristle 12a

For anyone that is interested in beta for sending the steeps at Hidden Valley, VA, here it is – 1.  Climb back to back 3 day weekends at the Red River Gorge.  2.  Go to Hidden Valley and try hard.  You won’t walk away empty-handed, I promise!

Our climbing schedule this month was planned out in detail very far in advance completely impromptu based on the weather, but it seemed to really work for us.  After all the steep climbing we’ve been doing lately, I decided I wanted another shot at Gristle 12a, a route I’d tried once before back in April.  The line starts with easier crack climbing, followed by a juggy traverse to a no hands rest in a corner.  From there the intensity picks up for a few moves until culminating in the short-lived, but bouldery crux that guards the glory jugs over the roof.  My previous attempt had featured a LOT of time spent danging from the crux bolt, with more hemming, hawing, and whining than legitimate attempts at the move.  Eventually I’d gotten through it, but the thought of doing the move on point had seemed so discouragingly unlikely, that I figured it’d be a while before I got on it again.  

CragDaddy’s 1st run up USDA #1 Choice 12a Photo: Mike Chickene

But straight off the heels of the Red, it seemed like if there ever was a time to try it again, the time was now!  Since the first part of the climbing is pretty easy, I decided to go bolt to bolt for my warm-up.  The first thing I noticed when I hung on the crux bolt was how much CLOSER the crux holds looked compared to how I’d remembered them!  I actually did the crux fairly easily off the hang (sans whining), and then on my next attempt, executed my beta perfectly for a send that required a rather anti-climactic amount of effort.  

CragDaddy, meanwhile, had put together a great 1st go effort on USDA 12a, a line that is advertised as “an awesome crankfest over 5 roofs.”  Ordinarily I would say that description alone would be enough to keep both of us away, but with the way things were going, we had nothing to lose?  So when it was my turn to climb again, I took full advantage of his draws and beta, and…I flashed it!!!!  Seriously!  All five roofs went first go!  I couldn’t believe it.  After I went, CragDaddy pulled the rope, and he looked pretty casual as he cruised up for the send.  

I ended our first day on Oregon Trail 10c, which was actually our very first route ever at Hidden Valley, back in March.  Back then, it did not go so well…cold temps, numb hands, and big roof was not the best combination for an introduction to a new area.  But I’m SO glad I got on it again, because this time it was more fun than a playground up there!

Another one from USDA Photo: Mike Chickene

The next day dawned surprisingly crisp and cool, and our goal was to make it up to Yabuisha 12a before the sun hit it just before noon.  CragDaddy and I both had a little history with this one, and we were both out for redemption.  Neither of us wanted to hang draws, so our strategy was for  CragDaddy to climb the neighboring route, Dynamo Hum 11c, then for me to follow on TR.  Yabuisha’s anchors are just a few feet away from Dynamo, so it was easy for me to clean one route, then step over to get the draws in on the way down.  

I rehearsed the crux move on the way down and it felt HARD.  I wasn’t at all sure it was going to go down that day.  But when it was my turn to climb again, everything went perfectly.  Conditions were so much better than they had been a month ago, thanks to all the leaves that are now on all the trees, and I’m certain that helped!  CragDaddy nabbed the send as well, making for a great start to our morning!  

The rest of the day we didn’t really have an agenda, so we just followed our friends around hopping on whatever, wherever.  The kids did a little bit of climbing, and CragDaddy gave another run at the direct variation of Spurs 13a.  I had a lot of fun onsighting Great White 11b/c as well as Goldrush 11c.  If you have the choice between the two, I’d highly recommend the former over the latter, as the climbing is a lot more sustained, and the rock quality is a lot better.  Goldrush did have a really cool boulder problem on the arete at the top, but a lot of rock in the roof was downright bad (make sure your belayer has a helmet!)    

Little Z getting her climb on!

I hiked out of the crag this weekend grinning from ear to ear!  It was one of those rare and magical low-gravity weekends that happens about as often as a super moon, the kind you better take advantage of to the fullest whenever you get the chance! The past few weeks have probably been the longest, most focused effort I’ve ever made to improve my weaknesses in the steep arena, and it feels fantastic to see all the hard work and pushing myself out of my comfort zone paying off!  Maybe there’s hope for me yet at places like The Hole or the Coliseum…although I sure do miss Endless Wall.  We’re heading up to the New this season for what will unbelievably be the first time this year for us!  So to be honest, by the time we get up there, I will probably be so happy to be there that it won’t matter what I get on!  

Not a bad way to spend the evening…

 

 

 

 

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[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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Rainy Red River Gorge Adventures…Round 2.

If I could pick one word to sum up spring climbing season this year, it would be “rain.”  We just can’t seem to buy any sun around here.  The good thing about that is that we haven’t had grueling hot temperatures.  The bad thing is that we’ve been limited as to our climbing destinations.  For example, we have been to the New exactly ZERO times in 2017.  Meanwhile, we just got home from back to back 3 day weekends at the Red, which we have never even considered doing before.  Don’t get me wrong, the Red is awesome…but the 6+ hour drive with two (sometimes screaming) banshees to get there is decidedly not as awesome.  But desperate times call for desperate measures…and it was totally worth it!

CragDaddy on 5.12 #50! Abiyoyo 12b Photo cred: Michael Chickene

The nice thing about a back to back affair at the Red was that for Round 2 we didn’t have to waste half a day getting our “Red mojo” back.  Since steep climbing is typically not our thing, it’s not uncommon for our first couple of RRG routes to feel discouragingly pumpy.  But this weekend marked the first trip in years that neither of us punted off the warm-up on Day 1.  

Since we were originally thinking we weren’t going to be rolling in until after 10, we booked a room at Lil Abner’s Motel for the first night, figuring that transitioning sleeping kiddos to a bed would be far easier than setting up the tent and risking everyone getting fired up with a second wind long about the time CragDaddy and I were ready to crash…but our plan backfired.  It started out well – CragDaddy actually got away from work earlier than expected, we hit very little traffic getting out of Charlotte, and our dinner stop was quick.  But then came the fatal error when Z fell asleep at 6 pm.  At first we didn’t think it was so bad – she had woken up early that morning, and had skipped the car nap, so an earlier than normal bedtime perhaps made sense.  But when she woke up again 2 hours later and it was still light outside, it became apparent that in her mind she was waking refreshed and rejuvenated from a restful slumber, and was ready to rock and roll the minute she got to stretch her legs.  

CragDaddy gets some Little Zu love in between climbs!

The good news was that the early arrival meant CragDaddy could go ahead and head to the LOTA campground to claim our favorite spot for the giant orange dome otherwise known as our tent, which saved us from setting up in the rain the following day.  The bad news was that both kiddos stayed up far too late and everyone went to bed annoyed with each other…in fact, I’m pretty sure that Little Z was the LAST one out of all of us to finally close her eyes.

But kids are kids, and regardless of who slept or didn’t sleep, we still woke up at the Red River Gorge psyched to climb!  Day 1 was spent at Roadside, where our friends Dino-Mike and Sarah hopped on Ro Shampo 12a, resulting in a send for the former, and a first 5.12 lead for the latter! CragDaddy and I warmed up on Pulling Pockets 10d, then tried our hand on Tic-Tac-Toe 12b (awesome…but super hard boulder problem at the top!), and The Return of Chris Snyder 11d (a loooooooong journey through never-ending juggy pockets.)  We ended our day with a casual romp up Just Duet 10d, a super fun slab which was actually CragDaddy’s first onsight of the grade way back in the day.  No sends for us on anything hard, but good times all the same.  

Me going big on Super Best Friends 12b at the Solarium. Photo cred: Michael Chickene

Day 2 dawned surprisingly dry, as it had only briefly rained the night before, and the storms that had been originally forecasted throughout the day had been pushed back to the afternoon.  We headed to the Solarium at Muir Valley, which has always been one of my favorite places to climb.  Every route I’ve ever been on there has been awesome, and I still have lots more to try.  I warmed up by going bolt to bolt on Super Best Friends 12b, an incredibly steep line that I’ve been intimidated by/wanting to try for years.  The moves were actually not nearly as hard as I was expecting…though putting them together would pack more of a pump than I can currently handle, so I only gave it the one go.  

This picture embodies so much of what I love about my little girl – strength, happiness, femininity, and no fear of dirt!

There were LOTS of folks at the Solarium, so in order to get more climb time I turned my attention to one of the less travelled lines – Magnum Opus 12a.  For all of my strong boulderer friends, this one is considered a gimme…the business is all in the first 25 feet, with what basically amounts to a 75 foot victory lap atop a sit-down ledge.  But “the business” sure is hard!  Sequency power moves on 2 finger pockets and underclings, culminating in a toss from a pair of sloping crimps.  I had tried it one other time last year, then quickly gave it up in favor of Galunlati 12b and Mirage 12c, both of which for me personally seem far easier!  This time though, the moves actually felt doable.  I pieced it together pretty well, then my next attempt managed a one-hang with a fall mid-crux.  My 3rd go felt like it was the one- I powered through, feeling pumped yet secure, and was ALMOST out of it, when I slipped off one move before the big toss to glory.  My 4th go was dismally tired, so even though it was still early, I knew it wasn’t my day.

CragDaddy, on the other hand, finally got revenge on Abiyoyo 12b, a line that has haunted him for almost a year.  On previous trips, he has fallen SIX times after the crux, once a mere 10 feet from the chains, on terrain that was no harder than 10a.  But not this day.  While it may not have been mine, today was most certainly his day – he sent 2nd go making it look easy peasy, nabbing his 50th lifetime 5.12!  Woo-hoo!  

Magnum Opus 12a

Day 3 I was determined not to let CragDaddy get any closer to MY lifetime 5.12 count to tick a 5.12 of my own.  After much discussion, the crew had settled on climbing at Drive-by Crag, so I decided to warm-up on Naked Lunch 12a.  Based on the description, it seemed like it might be a good fit for a last day (5.10+ steep climbing to a short-lived crimpy crux at the chains.)  I gave it my best onsight go, but fell trying to get the last bolt clipped.  I’m gonna blame it on the seeping water streak to my left.  None of the key hand holds were soaked, but they were definitely pretty manky, and I had to do a lot of extra maneuvering to keep my feet dry.  I actually stick-clipped the top so I could try to safely navigate a way around the seepage, and eventually got it worked out.  

Meanwhile, as I was awaiting my next turn, the sun was working it’s magic.  By the time I went up again, the manky holds felt much better, and a very key foot jib was now dry.  My Day 3 guns weren’t firing on all cylinders, but like most end-of-trip sends, the battle was probably won more out of sheer determination rather than physical strength.  Rule #1 of Redpointing = just keep climbing!  After giving CragDaddy the complete beta spraydown, he managed to claw his way to the chains as well, claiming the flash (and keeping our individual 5.12 counts within 5 of each other… but who’s counting 😉 ).

I ended my day on what is perhaps my new favorite route at the Red – Hakuna Matata 12a.  I’d wanted to squeeze in one more pitch on the weekend, and another party graciously let me jump on their draws while they were resting.  This line is amazing – steep and pumpy enough to belong at the Red, but technical and crimpy enough it could easily fit in at the New.  Probably no move harder than V3, but very little fluff in between.  Basically lots of short boulder problems separated by good jug rests.  Definitely one I want to make sure to have my fitness up for this fall!  

The jungle that is the Southeast this time of year.

And that was that, folks.  A lot different than our original Memorial Day weekend plans thanks to the weather, but hey, if the Red River Gorge is sloppy seconds, life’s pretty good, right?!?

 

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Climbing in France – Venasque

By Mark Anderson

Nearing the top of Vole, 7b, at the French Limestone crag of Venasque. Photo Logan Anderson.

Venasque is a little known crag outside the village of the same name, about an hour south of Buis. We first went there on one of my rest days, to give Kate a chance to climb some of the highly recommended 5.10s and 11s. Kate really enjoyed the climbing, and it looked so fun that we both agreed we should return for our last day in France.

Kate cruising Beaucoup de Bruit Pour Rien (“A Lot of Noise for Nothing”), 6a+, on our first day at Venasque.

The cliffs of Venasque don’t look remarkable (relative to other crags of the area). There are no tufas, the colors are bland relative to the orange and blue streaks of St Leger and Baume Rousse, and the scenery isn’t particularly special. But man, the climbing sure is fun! The rock is limestone, but it seems to have quite a bit of sandstone mixed in, and it’s weathered in a manner very similar to the best routes at Kentucky’s Red River Gorge. We spent most of our time at “Place de l’Ascle,” the main feature of which is a 30m wall, overhanging up to about 20 degrees, and covered in huge jugs. All the routes on this wall were spectacular 5.12 pumpfests. The routes aren’t particularly striking or cerebral, but it was definitely the most fun I had climbing on our trip.

Kate starting up Petite Marie, a gobsmacking 5.11c that charges up the right side of a towering swell of overhanging jugs.  5.11 sport climbs don’t get any better than this.

Higher on Petite Marie. Note the leaning wave of rock to Kate’s left—home to Misanthropies Therapeutiques, Aller Plus Haute, and Vole.

I started by warming up on a brilliant 7b on this wall called Misanthropies Therapeutiques, which was completely stellar, getting gently steeper, with equally growing holds, as you ascend (all the routes on this wall were like that).  It was one of the most fun sport climbs I’ve ever done. Next we moved to another sector along the same cliffband which the Rockfax guide described as a “must see wall that is the epitome of a sport crag and a must climb venue.” This cliff overhangs about 20 degrees, with a number of pockety, sequential lines from 7c-8b. I tried a route called Objectif Puree, or “Pure Objective.” This name was apparently ironic, as I soon discovered about half the handholds on the route were chipped. It was a drag, and really turned me off on the wall. I felt like I was climbing in a gym with poor route-setting. It was also rather disappointing that some people think chipped garbage is “the epitome of a sport crag.” Whether that’s a reflection on the author’s taste, or the reputation of sport climbing (or both), I don’t know. Nor am I sure which would be worse. To me it seemed like a real waste of a cliff, not to mention a waste of a climbing day in Europe.

Objectif Puree. Photo Amelie Anderson.

The upside of this revelation was that I was free to return to the first cliff and climb as many of the rad jughauls as my family could tolerate (fortunately it was also another great place to rig a rope swing, which got me at least one extra route beyond the usual quota).

Midway up Vole, 7b. Misanthropies Therapeutiques is the next route left (following the flake system), and Aller Plus Haute is the second route left. Photo Logan Anderson.

The most memorable moment of the day came as I was cleaning the 7b+ Aller Plus Haute (“Go High”). The crag is right over the road, at the intersection of a very popular hiking trail.  A crowd of about 30 hikers came through, pausing briefly to watch my acrobatics as I neared the bottom quickdraw. When I cleaned this last draw on the steeply overhanging wall, I predictably swung way out over the road, greeted by a chorus of “oohs” and “aahs” from the gathered spectators.

Logan getting in on the fun.

All told it was easily my favorite day of climbing on the trip. The crag doesn’t look spectacular, it’s not photogenic or historic, but it’s hard not to have fun on these amazing cliffs. It was a great hang for the kids, with no approach, and nestled in one of the most scenic rural regions of Provence.  It’s the perfect family vacation crag.

Castle of the Day – Entrevaux. This one was so spectacular it gets two pics….

Logan had a great time playing with the two cannons at lower right. Note also the Citadel high above, and the zig-zagging path that climbs up to it.

 

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