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Tuck Fest 2017: Deep Water Solo Competition

Two of my biggest fans. The little one cried every time I hit the water, while the big one kept requesting a cannonball finish.

It probably goes without saying that this week’s “Tuck Fest” post is far more fun to write than last week’s “Puke Fest” one. It’s an understatement to say that my days leading up to the Tuck Fest DWS comp consisted of a lot more “momming” than training.  By the time Friday afternoon rolled around, I really didn’t know what to expect, but while I was a bundle of nerves, I was pretty thankful no one in our family was throwing up.

The DWS facility at the US National Whitewater Center is the first and only permanent structure of it’s kind in the WORLD.  Couple that with the $15,000 purse up for grabs at the podium, it’s no surprise that the best competition climbers in the country showed up.  Considering that neither of those adjectives describe little old me (literally old…I was twice the age of most those girls!), I was actually just thrilled to be invited, and my goal was pretty simple – to try my hardest and savor every moment of the experience!  Here’s the play by play…

QUALIFIERS: (aka “qualies,” which is what the cool people call it…)

My friend Joe and I were the very first to check in, which meant we were the VERY first on the walls.  Personally I was psyched about that – the comp was an onsight format, which meant that we weren’t allowed to see anyone else on any of the routes before it was our turn.  So, in my mind there was no advantage to sitting in isolation getting more and more nervous by the minute…

Joe and I getting in the groove on our first routes.

Once qualifiers started, climbers were moved through 6 routes on the wall (3 for men, 3 for women) like an assembly line, so there wasn’t any time to think.  We had 2 minutes to climb, then 30 seconds to get out of the pool, 2 minutes rest, then 30 seconds to get to the next route’s start holds, and on and on like a well-oiled machine.  In fact, by the time I toweled off, changed shoes (it’s hard to take off wet climbing shoes!!!!!), and chalked up, it was time to get in position to go again.  From touching the first starting holds of route 1 until splashing down after route 3, only 8 minutes had passed!  

My first route went really well.  I sent it pretty easily, and felt a surge of confidence coming up out of the water.  I also felt a surge of breathlessness – every time I hit the water the wind got knocked out of me, and swimming to the side of the pool (in climbing shoes), was actually pretty difficult.  But what a rush!  Route 2 was a little harder, and I stalled out a little at the beginning, but finished up the rest of it without any issues.  Route 3 was the hardest of the bunch, and taller.  There were multiple cruxes, and it took me a long time to figure out each, but I managed to make it til the second to last hold before punting off!  I exited the pool swirling with excitement, very happy about my performance.  As the night went on, however, I started to realize that I’d done even better than I’d initially thought; By the end of the night, I was in 12th place, which meant that I got to move on to the finals on Saturday!!!  FYI, you can watch the whole qualifying round for free from start to finish on the Floclimbing website found here, since I was lucky enough to climb first, it’s pretty easy to pick me out!  (You can also watch the finals…but ya gotta pay for it!)

SEEDING ROUND (Saturday morning)

At this point, most of the nerves from the night before had melted into giddiness – as far as I was concerned, earning a spot in the top 16 was the best possible outcome I could have imagined.  In my mind, the hard part was over, and I was grateful to still be along for the ride.  

Going big…and finding success!

Seeding round was a lot different than qualifiers – more low-key in logistics, but stiffer in competition.  We got 2 chances at one route, waiting back in isolation behind the wall in between turns.  We did get to preview it though, and I took one look at the route and knew I was out of my league.  The wall was steeper, and the moves were bigger.  Much bigger.  We were CLEARLY not in qualifiers anymore…

Turns out I was up first…again.  I crept out to the start holds, reeeaalllly hoping not to be the total dork that falls in the water before I get there.  Try hard.  Go big.  I kept repeating that mantra to myself as I carefully made my way up to what I had identified in my preview as the first crux.  Maybe the span between holds wasn’t as big as it looked? I set up on the holds underneath it and stared down a pair of purple holds that may as well have been a mile away.  Nope – still huge.  I finagled my feet here and there, trying to get set up to make the lunge. 

Let me back up for a moment…I’m an outdoor climber who prefers long, technical routes that require far more technique and mental strength than physical strength.  Not to say that I don’t train power – I feel like I’m CONSTANTLY working to improve my ability to make big moves…but power is not a natural strength of mine, and is always lagging behind in my personal repertoire of climbing skills.  

So back to these big purple jugs.  I knew my body didn’t have the coordination to just let go and leap, but it looked like I could potentially deadpoint the move and not have to dyno. (Non-climber translation: “deadpoint” is a lunge move where at least one body part stays on – you’re feet cut AFTER you’ve hit the next hold, or one hand stays on the whole time, as opposed to a “dyno” where all body parts are off the wall for a split second.)  Though not at all sure I’d have the arm span,  I sank down low on the holds, paused briefly, then lunged….AND I STUCK THE HOLD!!!  It made a loud slapping sound, and it took me a few seconds before I realized that I was still on the wall.  I kept going, but got stalled out and eventually fell just a few moves later.  

One move away from my high point at seeding. Photo cred: Bryan Miller of @fixedlinemeda

Turns out that move was a not-so-biggie for all the serious competitors, as there were only a handful of climbers that fell before my high point.  In fact, the majority of the women completed the entire route on both of their attempts.  But for me, onsighting that move was huge, and was potentially one of the hardest moves I successfully completed all weekend, so I walked away both satisfied as well as motivated.

FINALS!  (Saturday afternoon)

My mediocre performance in the seeding round landed me in 13th place for finals, which pitted me against nationally-ranked Atlanta climber Tori Perkins (seeded 4th) for the head to head final.  I’d seen her crush the seeding round, and was fairly certain I was about to be obliterated.  But I just couldn’t stop smiling – I knew I wasn’t going to win, and so did the 1000+ people out on the lawn spectating, so there was absolutely no pressure!  Not surprisingly, I got knocked out in the first round, although it ended up being a far closer match-up than I’d originally anticipated.  But oh what a thrill to be able to tackle that big wall in front of a cheering home crowd!  I am so grateful for the opportunity to be there and do my best to represent the home team!

First round of finals…photo creds: Jennie Jariel

In reflection, it was very interesting to experience a completely different form of climbing than what I’m used to.  Comparing outdoor rock climbing to competitive gym climbing is probably like comparing back country skiing to slalom racing…the skills sets are similar, but they really are two very different sports, and only the best of the best can be good at both at the same time.  I have a lot of respect for these little girls with far superior strength, power, and route-reading abilities than I could ever hope to have. (seriously for a couple of them, I’ve been climbing longer than they’ve been alive!)   As far as the competition scene goes though?  They can have it.  It was novelty fun for me, but I’ll take real rock any day over plastic…although jumping into a pool might sound pretty refreshing come summertime!  But for now, I’m looking forward to getting back to regularly scheduled programming this weekend!   

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[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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Climbing in France – Baume Rousse

by Mark Anderson

World class tufa climbing at Baume Rousse, France. Photo Logan Anderson.

As mentioned in the last post, it rained heavily during the first part of our trip, so for our second climbing day we picked a crag called Baume Rousse, somewhat sheltered in a natural cirque, and close to our home base of Buis-les Baronnies. Before getting into the climbing, Buis deserves a short description. This village of about 2500 people is nestled in an incredible valley, surrounded by impressive peaks and limestone cliffbands. There are three extensive limestone sport crags within walking distance of town (Baume Rousse, Ubrieux, and St. Julien), and another five or so within a 30 minute drive. There’s literally a lifetime of climbing opportunities with an hour’s drive.

Buis-les-Baronnies from Baume Rousse, with the limestone fin of St. Julien just above town, and the snow-capped Mount Ventoux in the background. St Leger is nestled in between Ventoux and the next ridge behind St. Julien, about a 25-minute drive from Buis.

The piercing limestone fin of St. Julien dominates the skyline above Buis-les-Baronnies. The crag features ~100 routes, including many multi-pitch lines and a network of via Ferrata.

A pair of climbers low on St. Julien (in yellow and blue, near the bottom of the cliff, in the center of the frame, at the same height as the tallest tree).

Baume Rousse is a smaller crag with only about 100 routes, but the hardest of those routes climb some of the most amazing tufas I’ve ever seen! Besides its amazing orange & black streaked limestone, Baume Rousse is unusual because it was developed in order to host a climbing comp in the 1990’s (fortunately the rock was not chipped to engineer the comp routes like at some other outdoor comps of the era).

The view towards Buis from the base of St Julien. The V-shaped diagonal limestone ridge behind the village is the crag Ubrieux (which we did not visit). The limestone cirque of Baume Rousse is visible just beyond the ridge, directly above the center of the “V.”

The left half of the Baume Rousse cirque.

Looking straight up at the tufa curtains on the back wall of Baume Rousse.

By far the best route I did on the trip was an 8a called Rigpa ou la Nature de l’esprit (Google doesn’t seem to know what “Rigpa” means, but the rest of it has something to do with “the nature of the mind”). The route follows a phenomenal tufa fin which juts out from the wall as much as 16” but is never more than 2” thick. It’s a classic pumpfest, maybe 15 degrees overhanging, with strategic exotic rests. The tufas fade near the top, requiring some big reaches between features.

Rigpa ou la Nature de l’esprit. Photo Logan Anderson.

Nearing the crux on Rigpa. Photo Logan Anderson

Another pic of Rigpa. Photo Logan Anderson

Just to the right of Rigpa is another tufa-laden 8a. I tried that line next, but just as I finished it started raining heavily. Thanks to strong swirling winds we found the little cirque was not quite as sheltered as we hoped, so we decided to pack it in for the day. The entire back wall of the cirque is covered in awesome tufas curtains, and if I had one more (dry) day in Buis, I would head straight to Baume Rousse to try more of these amazing climbs.

Amelie enjoying the best rope swing of the trip

One of the highlights of the trip for me (and I think Logan as well) was a short, entry-level via Ferrata I did with him at the base of St. Julien. Like most things at this age, it took a bit of prodding to get him interested, but once we got started he was instantly stoked. I think the pictures illustrate best how much fun we had. Before we were finished he started campaigning to do another, harder, higher via ferrata, and he kept bringing it up throughout the rest of the trip. Unfortunately these are engineered with a certain minimum height in mind, and there wasn’t another one around that was suitable for 6-year-olds.

Starting up the first few iron rungs of the via ferrata. The look of half fear/half excitement in Logan’s eyes says it all.

 

Still not clear if he’s happy or terrified. I think just really excited. I learned later that I was supposed to hook the rope through the metal hook-thing above Logan’s head as a directional. (St. Julien in the background.)

This particular route was designed specifically with kids in mind, more like a vertical park than a mountaineering objective, with closely spaced steps and a number of fun “obstacles” to look forward to (including a suspension bridge, “monkey bridge,” cargo net, and balance beam). It even climbs through a natural stone arch. It was super fun, even for jaded me. It really made me wish we had more via ferrata in the US; it’s a great way to introduce beginners to the mountains and creates no more impact than the typical hiking trail.  It’s pretty awesome the way the local European communities embrace climbing, marketing it as an attraction and encouraging participation.  There was a huge kiosk in the center of Buis describing in detail all the via ferrata, how to reach them, what equipment was needed and so on.

The suspension bridge.

So-called Monkey Bridge.

Climbing through the arch.

The cargo net, with Buis, etc in the background.

Castle of the day – Logan playing with a Trebuchet at Chateaux des Baux.

Sending Spree: Drew Ruana takes on The New

 

Wow. I can truly say that the New River Gorge was one of the most beautiful areas I’ve ever been to. I feel so blessed to have opportunities to visit special places like these. My dad had learned to climb at the New; he had always talked about it to me, telling me I needed to go there sometime with him. Until I actually went, it was hard to visualize just how stunning the area is- not just the climbing. The wildlife, the scenery, everything about this area is just beautiful. Day one back home, and I already can’t wait to go back.

 

Before I got here, I didn’t really have specific goals. I wanted to play around on some hard stuff, but when I got off the plane on the first day and got to the wall, all I wanted to do was climb. Climb climb climb. I decided that I would have a much more rewarding and fulfilling trip if I did more mileage- so I did that. I think I averaged around 9 pitches a day? Something like that. Most of them new routes, and in new areas. I managed to send 20 new 5.13 routes, and 4 5.14s in my 6 days of climbing there.

A couple of the routes I tried stood out to me. I know I’ll remember them for the rest of my life. One of them was Puppy Chow, 5.12c- I don’t think I’ve ever had as much fun climbing on a route as I did on that. If you’re in the area, get on the route. I don’t care how hard you do or don’t climb- it is 100,000,000% recommended. Also in that area is Mango Tango. This route is the most strikingly beautiful arete I’ve ever seen. It looks and climbs like pure artwork. Although a bit cryptic, figuring out the beta and sending was one of the most memorable climbs of my life.

The thing is that trips like these aren’t just about the climbing. They are made great by the people you’re with. Piper, Miriam, Quinn, and Laura were one of the best crews I’ve ever climbed with.

I met a bunch of my dad’s old climbing buddies, which was cool to see who he grew up with. The local vibes there are awesome – shoutout to pies and pints, the pizza and atmosphere is rad there.

Special thanks to Michael Williams for being the sickest guide/guru around. Can’t wait for another trip like this!

Here’s my ticklist for this trip:
5.14b
Still Life 2nd go
Journeyman 3rd go

5.14a
Mango Tango 2nd go
Sword of Damocles 4th go

5.13d
Natural Progression 2nd go

5.13c
The Project OS
In the Flat Field 2nd go
Satanic Verses 2nd go

5.13b/c
B.C. 2nd go

5.13b
The Racist 2nd go
The Pod FL
Crossing the Line OS
SR-71 OS
Against the Grain OS
White Lighting OS
Fuel Injector OS

5.13a
Quinsana plus FL
Apollo Reed OS
El Chapo FL
B-52 OS
Massacre OS
Skull Fuck Direct Finish OS
Mighty Dog FL
Next Time OS

Photos by Trevor Blanning

Easter Eggs, Climbing, and the Car Ride from Hell…

This week has been a rough one as I have been nursing a toddler with a bad case of the throw ups (see below), while trying to manage some bad spasms in my lower back.  That being said, writing a trip report has been fairly low on the priority list, but the blogosphere has granted me about an hour to bang one out tonight, so here goes.  Our weekend can be summed up pretty easily in 3 distinct parts, as noted in the title.  I’ll tackle them in order…

Easter Eggs –

It’s been our family tradition since 2013 to have an at-the-crag Easter Egg Hunt.  Although it’s somewhat of a pain to drag buckets of plastic eggs everywhere throughout the day, the kids look forward to it so much that we just can’t say no.  And this year, we crammed everything into Big C’s backpack anyway, so really the only trouble was keeping track of the exponentially larger explosion of kid stuff at the base of the cliff.  In previous years Little Z has been too little to really “get it,” and aside from placing a few token eggs pretty much directly in front of her, she didn’t really participate.  This year, however, she was READY.  We’d already gotten a decent amount of “hunting” done at friend’s and family’s houses, so she was anxious to step up her game.  After all, at-the-crag egg hunts are not for beginners; a good egg hunter needs to be willing to look inside holes that potentially house creepy-crawlies, and able to scale rock faces (with a grown-up spotter, of course!)  

Another Easter tradition we have at the crag is bringing resurrection rolls for any and all who would like to partake.  It’s nothing more than a crescent roll with a sugar and butter coated marshmallow melted inside, but the hollow result makes for a great visual of the empty tomb for the kiddos, and great sending treats for all!  

Climbing –

As you probably have guessed, our weekend also included a bit of climbing…though not nearly as much as we’d originally intended.  In between egg hunting and resurrection roll eating, we managed to squeeze in 4 pitches, only 2 of which are worth mentioning.  Pocketful of Rattlebugs 11a is potentially the best of the grade at Hidden Valley – definitely do it if you are in the area!  It’s a pocket-pulling, finger-locking good time if I ever had one – AND it stays dry in a downpour!  I ended my day on Gristle 12a, a steep, juggy line with a hard boulder problem at the top.  It took me quite a while to finally make the crux move, but I eventually got it worked out.  That one move is really hard for me, and I know it would be even harder coming in hot on point…but I always tell people that you never get a good picture of how close or far you are on a route until you give it a second go, so I should probably take my own advice and hop on it again next time.  Why didn’t I just get on it the next day, you wonder?  Well, that brings me to the final piece of this post…

CragDaddy starting the business of Gristle 12a

The Car Ride From Hell –

To get the full effect, we need to back up a bit.  CragDaddy and I had gone up to Hidden Valley for the weekend knowing we didn’t have any extra partners for Sunday to help with the kiddos, but we were up for going for it.  After all, with Little Zu being 3 now, we are sooo close to being able to fly solo, so long as we are at a kid-friendly crag (ie flat, safe base with no drops/water hazards/etc),  In fact, the past few times we’ve been out, there have been times that the kids have been so engrossed with playing with each other, they’ve hardly noticed whoever was on “kid-duty.”  Ironically enough, however, we DID actually run into some friends at the end of Day 1 with whom we made some symbiotic climbing plans with; the wife was 35 weeks pregnant and obviously not wanting to  catch lead falls.  Our mutually beneficial plan would have worked out great I’m sure, except that when we arrived at the base of the cliff the next morning, Little Zu promptly began puking her guts out.  

Just before the crux, Gristle 12a

I will spare you the details on the off chance you are eating dinner as you read this, but let me say this – if you think throw ups are gross at home, multiplying that grossness by a factor of 10 pales in comparison to what happened over the next 5 hours.  By the time we got back to the car, Little Zu had gotten vomit all over herself, all over me, and all over the backpack carrier.  Thank heavens for the Easter Egg bucket that we were able to re-purpose as a barf bucket in the car, otherwise the car situation would have been FAR worse.  Still, I lost track of how many times we had to stop to change her clothes, but we were averaging every 15 minutes or so for most of the drive, save the hour or so that she was able to sleep some.  By the time we got home, we were digging Big C’s shirts out of the dirty laundry bag, because she’d exhausted all of her extra clean clothes, her previously dirty clothes, as well as Big C’s extra clean clothes (there was a certain big brother who was NOT thrilled about sharing, but you’re never too young to learn what it means to “take one for the team.”)  

My poor, sweet girl.

Somehow during this whole debacle, I did something terrible to a muscle in my back.  CragDaddy hypothesized that it happened when I got my foot stuck in the seat belt while making a dive into the backseat, bucket in hand, in an attempt to catch a particularly projective-esque episode that had woken poor Z from a seemingly sound sleep.  

After a puke-free Sunday night and Monday, we thought she was in the clear, but Tuesday featured a reprise that, although milder, still made for a rough day.  Today, however – she woke up ravenous and has been eating all day and keeping everything down, so maybe NOW we’re in the clear?  For her at least…

Meanwhile, in between chiropractor visits, vitamin I, yoga stretches, and massages from the CragDaddy, my back has been slowly but surely loosening up.  I climbed on it yesterday, and it didn’t bother me at all – right now it just hurts if I’m standing up for prolonged periods.  I may not be at my best, but I’m optimistic I can at least bring SOME try hard to the Tuck Fest Deep Water Solo competition this Friday night (!!!)  That is, provided I’m not sidelined with my own barf bucket in the event my darling daughter decided to share her germs despite all my best efforts at disinfecting and quarantining.  So far so good, but it’s too soon to say…wish me luck!  

Related Images:

[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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VOLUNTARY PRODUCT RECALL: Vergo Belay Device

VOLUNTARY RECALL NOTICE
VERGO BELAY DEVICE
BATCH NUMBERS 16159 AND 16195

14 April 2017 –  Trango has elected to voluntarily recall all Trango Vergo belay devices in batch numbers 16159 and 16195 that were sold after 1 October 2016. Please IMMEDIATELY cease use of all such Vergos and return them to Trango for replacement as described below.

Background
Trango has recently discovered that the handles on some Vergo belay devices may have loosened to allow lateral wobble or movement of the handle. If excessive downward force is exerted on a handle subject to lateral movement, the handle may over-rotate onto the front plate, preventing the front plate from moving freely, and impairing the device’s assisted braking capacity. If the handle over rotates as described above, the assisted braking function is impaired or disabled, and the risk of uncontrolled descent increases significantly.

Proper use of the Vergo, however, never requires the handle to move forward and over rotate onto the front plate.

As of 14 April 2017, Trango has received two reports of this issue occurring. No injuries have been reported due to this issue.

Identifying the Units
The units affected are in batch numbers 16159 and 16195. You can identify your Vergo’s batch number adjacent to the carabiner hole as shown in the photo below.

The photo below shows a Vergo with the handle improperly over rotated onto the front plate.

Over Rotated Handle shown here

Remedy
After analyzing the issue, Trango has redesigned the Vergo’s handle attachment point and has modified the handle itself to prevent it from over rotating and impairing the free movement of the front plate.

Returning the Units
The recalled Vergos have been sold worldwide. If your device is affected, please email vergorecall@trango.com for further instructions on how to return your Vergo to us or visit http://trango.com/t-product-alerts.aspx for instructions.

Repair or Replacement
Trango will replace your Vergo as quickly as possible and will pay for all shipping costs to recall and return your Vergo back to you.

The safety of our customers is our primary concern. We are sorry for any inconvenience that this may cause. Trango understands that any voluntary recall is inconvenient and we are working hard to ensure that you receive your replacement Vergo as quickly as possible.

Climbing in France – St Leger

by Mark Anderson

My family and I just returned from a two-week trip to France and Italy. In addition to sightseeing and eating (my favorite pastime), we visited four distinct climbing areas in Southern France and the Italian Riviera. All of these crags are relatively unknown to Americans, but would be renowned destinations if they were in North America.

The first crag we visited, and the one I expected to be the best, is called St. Leger. It’s a fairly long limestone gorge at the very base of the north slope of Mt. Ventoux. Mt. Ventoux, aka “the Giant of Provence”, is a legendary peak for cycling nerds like me. Fans of the Tour de France will recall many famous ascents of Ventoux, especially Chris Froome’s whacky bicycle-free ascent in last year’s Tour.

Pinching my way up the St Leger tufa classic, La Farce Tranquille. Photo: Logan Anderson

We picked St. Leger because I’d heard it was a relatively new crag, relatively untraveled (compared to other crags in the vicinity like Ceuse and Buoux), and so might be less polished. The crag is basically one long cliffband that seems to go forever, sorta like Sinks in Wyoming, but with about 400 routes. The first thing we noticed was bulging caves covered in amazing tufas. The routes at Leger tend to be long pumpfests. Most of the walls are vertical to slightly overhanging, with a few caves thrown in (most of the cave routes seem to be in the 8c/+ range). The climbing seems to get better the harder the routes get, with most of the tufas following steep cave lines in the mid-to-high 8’s. We definitely struggled to find worthwhile routes in the 5.10/11 range, but I did quite a few excellent 5.12s, and the 5.13s were stellar.

Piedra Salvage, Le Ceil du Loup, Le Voleur de Pesanteur, and La Farce Tranquille sectors of St Leger. This pic was taken on our 2nd day at St Leger—note all the black streaks!

The first day we started at a crag called Le Voleur de Pesanteur, which has a number of great warmups, and is also adjacent to one of the best looking steep sectors, “La Farce Tranquille.” Once I was warm I jumped on a pair of adjacent 8a’s that climb up a smooth, steep pillar that splits the cave ( the broad tan pillar just right of center in the above pic). Both of these lines (Barbule and La Farce Tranquille) featured some amazing, pumpy tufa climbing with weird kneebars, exotic stems, and lots of pinching.

Starting up the sweeping wave of limestone on Barbule.  Photo Logan Anderson.

Tufa wrangling on Barbule, 8a, St. Leger. Photo Logan Anderson.

Later in the day I scrapped my way up Le Voleur de Pesanteur (“The Thief of Gravity” according to Google Translate) a devious 7c on the sector of the same name. It was one of my favorite routes of the trip. This line featured a series of subtle tufas, with nice pockets and edges just where you needed them.

Kate climbing the classic “Piedra Salvage, 6b+” on our wet day. Note the (relatively for Europe) fractured rock.

Overall the tufa climbing at St Leger was awesome. I would highly recommend any of the tufa routes I climbed. However, I was not really impressed by the tufa-less routes. It rained heavily on the second and third days of our trip, and when we returned to St Leger a few days later we found all the tufas were still soaking wet black streaks. There were plenty of dry routes to choose from, but the rock on these routes is heavily fractured. The climbing was still good, but not worth traveling across oceans for. In dry conditions the crag was stellar, and had it not rained we likely would have spent more time here. As advertised, the rock was not polished and we never saw more than 8 other climbers at the crag. It’s definitely a hidden gem, but best in dry conditions and probably better suited to climbing in the higher grades.

Castle of the day – Souze la Rousse, about an hour west of St Leger. This pic is our impression of every Black Sabbath album cover ever.

Anniversary Trip to Hidden Valley

Although there have been a handful of daytrips scattered here and there along the way, the last time the CragDaddy and I were able to get away together for an entire kid-free weekend was almost 5 years ago, back when Big C was 2 and a half, and Little Zu was just a twinkle in our eyes.  Considering that the latter turned 3 a month ago on the same day we celebrated 15 years of marriage, we were overdue for an escape!  Our original plan was to stroll down memory lane at the New River Gorge, a place that we have been adventuring in for over a decade.  But with snow and all day rain in the forecast for most of the days leading up to the trip, we knew that our only chance for finding dry rock would be to change our destination.  

Cheesy love selfies totally allowed on anniversary trips.

So we opted for what has suddenly (and randomly) become our 2017 stomping grounds – Hidden Valley, VA.  We decided that in honor of the occasion we would step up our accommodations from our usual norm – no tents, and no $50 motels!  Instead, we spent two relaxing evenings and two delicious mornings at White Birches Inn, a bed and breakfast run by a delightful couple that made us feel right at home.  If there are any other climbers out there looking to splurge, please give them a call!  (FYI they are very reasonably priced…I’m just using the word “splurge” because most climbers tend to be dirtbag cheapskates…it takes one to know one!)  

Anyway, we took our time hiking in to the Falcon Wall Saturday morning.  For starters, it was pretty cold, and we also wanted to take full advantage of our opportunity to explore a still relatively new-to-us place at our leisure.  It was refreshing to be able to comb over the guidebook together and stop whenever we wanted to take a closer look, without worrying about distracting the troops and losing our “kid-hiking momentum.”  We found ourselves at the base of the Falcon Wall by late morning, however, where I warmed up on Thin Shells 10d (because it looked fun) and CragDaddy warmed up on Playing With the Crow 10d  (because he could swing over and hang draws on his project as he was being lowered.)  His plan worked out perfectly, as he sent DDT 12b in fine style on his first attempt of the day!  

A rare day that we BOTH get to carry in our Trango packs!

Our next move was a change of pace from our usual – we hopped on a 5.13!  For a while now CragDaddy has been saying he thinks we might be ready, if we found the right one that suited our climbing styles.  I didn’t necessarily disagree, but have been a little less psyched about the idea. To be honest, I remember all the “route shopping” I had to do when I was first breaking into 5.12 land to find lines that maximized my strengths and minimized my weaknesses, and the thought of going through all of that again with TWO kids in tow seems more exhausting and perhaps not worth the effort.  But what better time to test the “hardman” waters than on a kid-free trip, when both parties are willing to take long, patient turns at the belay.  

Rodent’s Lament 13b Photo: Nick Hitchcock

Though we’d checked out a few along the way, we settled on Rodent’s Lament 13b, which although harder on paper than some of the other choices, seemed like a good fit because we have done really well on the neighboring routes.  Not to mention it just looked more doable than some of the other options!  We both took FOREVER on it, far more time than we would have been afforded with the kids around.  Final assessment was as follows – V4/5 sequence down low to a no hands rest, with a really hard V7? crimpy crux, followed by some 5.11+ climbing to the top.  Neither of us could really touch the crux – I came close one time, but that was it.  I initially thought I’d be able to pull the moves, since the holds didn’t seem “that bad”, but I just didn’t have the finger strength needed to get my feet high enough to make the next moves.  Perhaps that’s motivation to get on a hangboard this summer and come back next fall with fingers of steel?  Maybe, maybe not.  The jury is still out for me on whether or not a load of extra training is worth earning an extra number grade, so we’ll see!  

The only other routes of note on the day were two 5.11c’s that I was really psyched to onsight – Kestrel, because it was so good, and Last Episode, because it was such a fight to hang on!  The former is on the Falcon Wall, and is definitely worth the hike even if that’s all you do there.  The latter is on the SNL Wall, and is relatively chill until the last couple of bolts…when the intensity turns way up and the holds disappear! 

Sorry for all the selfies…it was just so rare to be just the two of us!!!

It’s also worth noting that we didn’t stop climbing until 6:30!!!!!!  Unheard of with the kiddos, as we usually aim to be hiking out no later than 5!  

Our next day was more of the same – a little bit of sending, and a lot of flailing around on stuff that was too hard for us.  Routes worth mentioning are Spurs 10c, and Rainy Saturday 12a.  The former features steep jug hauling ending at a spectacular view (so if you get on it, don’t forget to turn around and look!)   The latter is basically a powerful boulder problem right off the deck to a juggy roof and laidback slabby finish.  CragDaddy scored the onsight, while my flash attempt was thwarted by the first long move (second go send though!) 

Even though we ended up having to go with our “Plan B” destination, we still had a marvelous time…and it looks as if we’ll be back this weekend, this time with kiddos in tow!  Though we’re dying to get back to the New, we just haven’t been able to get all of our stars in proper alignment – weather, schedules, partners, etc.  With that said, however, we are thankful for this new option that is both closer to us AND wet weather friendly!  Big props to the Carolina Climbers Coalition for making this access happen!

 

Related Images:

[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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The Cutting Edge

As I close in on 500 5.12s, I’ve found that the ones I have left to do at my home crag, the New River Gorge are mostly the HARD ones.  Back in 2001 or 2002, I was a top rope tough guy maxing out at 5.11- or so.  However, my climbing mentor Bob was doing his best to climb every 5.12 in the world.  Despite me not being strong enough, I made a point of getting on EVERY single 5.12 I could.  Looking back, I owe Bob big time for all the marathon belay/ “pull me up” sessions!
I’ve gone back and done just about every of these routes, though one route, “The Cutting Edge” 5.12b at Bubba City has continued to spit me off over the years.   I specifically remember climbing 5.13 one day out there, yet once again, not being able to do the route!  Two weekends ago, it was quite hot and conditions were bad, but I finally worked out the two crux sequences on the route.  I went for a send go but got pumped mid-way through the second crux and blew it. 
 
Climbing Le Grand Fromage V5 at Moore’s Wall.  Boulder is great training for routes!  Photo Greg Loomis
 
This past weekend, though, it felt a lot better.  I used typical “Siege Tactics”, rappelling off the top of the route to hang the draws, brush and chalk the holds, and work the crux moves hanging there.  I extended several draws to make the clips easier and then waited for some clouds. 
The route has open shuts, which was scary for coming top-down.  I leaned over, dropped my rope over them and also clipped a biner to them, then did the reverse pull up on a couple of maybe dead trees.  Because of the open shuts, my rope fell out of one of the shuts, but it stayed in the other and also, my biner stayed.   A little scary though….
My fingers and body remembered what I taught them the previous weekend and I was happy to do the route pretty easily, though I still had to try hard, spending a lot of time between the first and second crux on really small hands, but good feet shaking.  (I was 95-100 percent on all the moves which is always nice.)
About 10+ years ago, Eric Horst re-engineered the route to add a final 5.12- sequence going to the anchors instead of a jaunt up 5.easy slab to a (now dead) tree anchor.  Unfortunately, this part of the route was wet, but “dry enough.”  This ascent made for number 480 5.12s for me. 
Here is some blow-by-blow beta if any of you ever want to try the route.
Cutting Edge starts on an easy scramble up pillar to a small ledge, then immediately launches into a “so-so feet” traverse right on steep jugs to the arete.  A fairly long, but easy move leads to two great incut hand jugs, and an easy clip (but hard bolt to hang.)  This is where it gets serious.  Some smaller edges and a pretty high left foot leads to a slimper left undercling/sidepull.  Unfortunately, there is a roof so the right foot just dangles, but I worked out a right toe hook under the roof to surf up to a pretty bad sloper/edge.  From that, a move left to a good (well better) sloper leads to the next clip and a shake (though a poor one) before the real crux.  
This route really works the left hand and a couple set-up moves lead to a ½ pad sidepull, a nothing smear for the left and a bad right back-step smear (glad to have my Tenaya Iatis.)   From the sidepull you make a long move to a really bad pocket/crimp.  Still about 80 percent on that left hand, walk feet up some and GO HARD again right hand to the better pocket.  Sticking that pocket, you’re out of the woods if you can keep it together.  A couple better feet lead to a good sidepull and clip.  From here, there’s about 30 feet of 5.10+ or easier climbing and essentially a full recovery before launching into the finish.  A hidden pocket on the arete leads left to a good hold, and then another pocket/pinch on the arete with some high feet leads to some pretty bad holds just below the moss covered top.  The anchor clip is easy because the feet are good. 

 

 

 

 

Sending Spree at Hidden Valley, VA!

This time of year in the Southeast, planning weekend climbing trips can be a bit of a gamble when it comes to the weather.  It’s especially hard when a too-long-for-a-day-trip destination looks perfect one day, and sketchy the next.  We all had our hearts set on a round 2 at Hidden Valley, VA this past weekend, but while Saturday looked splitter, Sunday looked, well, pretty wet.  However, we’d heard from multiple people about how the bad weather often “hops” right over the mountain, even when surrounding areas are soaked.  That combined with numerous rainy day route recommendations from the new guidebook was good enough for us – and our gamble totally paid off!  

CragDaddy with his belay game on point while the kiddos play in the background.

Not only was day 1 just as gorgeous as forecasted, but it was an above average performance day for the whole crew.  After a quick warm-up on Powder 10d, we decided to make the long trek to the Falcon Wall, which the guidebook touted as the best technical face climbing in the Valley.  We were not disappointed!  Our first route there was Fledgling 12b, a stellar line with a thin crux up high, and a somewhat cryptic finish.  Perhaps a little soft (we all agreed Flavored with Meat 12a from a few weeks ago was substantially harder), but super fun nevertheless.  It was my turn to hang draws, and I was really close on the onsight, but botched it at the last bolt when I missed a hidden foot.  The CragDaddy scored his first 12b flash, fellow Cragmama Rebekah nabbed her first 5.12 send on her second go, and I sent second go as well.  Yay team!  

Cruxin’ on Fledgling 12b

Next on our list was DDT 12b, another area classic.  Definitely a step up from Fledgling; this route was NOT soft, and featured movement that was very sustained, technical and bouldery.  The crux beta was pretty intricate, and included a pretty tenuous clip, but after figuring out the beta on my first go, and rehearsing the harder moves again when I was lowering off, it felt pretty doable.  I sent second go, woo-hoo!  First time in a looong time I’ve nabbed two 5.12’s in a single day. 

Fancy footwork on DDT 12b

Next day we fought some drizzle in the morning, a random 3 minute monsoon in the afternoon, as well as our extra partner needing to leave early due to illness.  With all that said, however, we managed to make it a pretty good day.  It was the CragDaddy’s turn to hang draws, and he spoonfed me beta for a flash on “Never Seen a Man Beat the Snake Before” 12b.  Fun route, though not nearly as classic as the lines on the Falcon Wall.  Perhaps a little soft as well, but definitely worth doing if you are climbing in the Snake Garden area.  

First moments at the crag Sunday morning…(thanks for the rainsuits Biddle and Bop!)

Our day ended rather abruptly when I had to bail on the Meat Wall during the freakish rain storm.  We hiked out a little earlier than normal, but super psyched on spring climbing season.  Looking forward to spending more time in Hidden Valley this spring, as well as a…wait for it…KID-FREE weekend at the New for a belated anniversary celebration.  (Please, please do an anti-rain dance in a couple of weeks for us if you get a chance…)  Til then, where did everyone else adventure this past weekend?

…and an hour later, here’s CragDaddy sending “Never Seen a Man Beat the Snake Before” (Photo creds to Eric from TRC, didn’t catch his last name!)

Related Images:

[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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Julienne Salad Days

By Mark Anderson

My family and I are heading to France (with a few days in Italy) at the end of the month for spring break. I spend the vast majority of my outdoor climbing days working redpoint projects, but on this trip I expect to focus on climbing routes first go, so I’ve spent the past few weeks tuning up my fitness accordingly and practicing on-sighting. All the crags on our itinerary are limestone, so we made a point to visit Shelf Road to climb on similar stone (albeit of much, much lower quality–or so I hope).

Earlier in the winter I bolted 4 routes (and a linkup) on a nice cream-colored panel of rock in the “Tropical Wall” sector of Shelf’s North Gym, which offered the perfect objective. Granted, these would not technically be on-sight attempts since I had rapped all the routes while bolting them. However, I don’t really possess the capacity to remember the details of four random lines I bolted a few months ago, since all my memory banks are filled to the brim with song lyrics and movie quotes. So I expected it to provide good practice nonetheless.

The main feature on the wall is a 3-feet-deep roof about halfway up. Four of the five lines involve this obstacle in some way. The first line I tried (“Booty Sweat”) follows a fairly continuous crack system that skirts the left side of the roof with powerful underclings (for the grade). While basically a crack climb, there are a lot of nice pockets sprinkled around to spice things up.

Shaking out below the undercling roof exit on Booty Sweat, 5.11b. Photo Amelie A.

The most intimidating line on the wall climbs out the center of the roof. Thanks to a few sinker pockets I climbed fairly easily up to a good shake at jugs below the ceiling. Just as I arrived, Amelie announced she needed to pee and she couldn’t hold it. Fortunately there was a bolt right at my waist, so I clipped a loose sling straight in to the bolt so Kate could help Amelie. This gave me plenty of time to contemplate the imposing obstacle above. Once I was properly on belay again, I charged up to the lip and groped my right hand over to a shallow 4-finger dish. I couldn’t see an elegant way to get established over the lip, so I coiled and hucked my left hand for what appeared likely to be a big jug. It was, and I stuck it, but it was incredibly prickly. My feet swung out wildly as I stuck the jug, and Kate shouted up “that was sick!”, which is incredibly rare—usually she is completely and justifiably unimpressed by my climbing antics (having seen the sausage being made, so to speak). I replied with, “what’s sick is what happened to the skin on my hand.” My palm was torn up and bleeding in a few places, but it turned out to be nothing serious, just enough to warrant the name “More Shredded Than A Julienne Salad.”

Working up the headwall after surmounting the big roof on …Julienne Salad (5.12b?) Photo Amelie A.

Perhaps the best line turned out to be the 5.11- linkup that joins the bottom half of Booty Sweat to the top-half of More Shredded…, climbing through the left side of the big roof via a bubbly pancake flake. It’s a classic jughaul with no hard moves to speak of. I’m generally not a fan of linkups, and I had no intention of bolting this line when scoping the wall from the ground, but once I rapped the wall and saw the line of jugs I couldn’t resist.

Scoping holds on The Boy Everybody Was Jealous Of, 5.12a. Photo Logan A.

The other two lines on the wall, Be Australian and The Boy Everybody Was Jealous Of, involve sustained pocket and edge climbing on great stone. They’re both worthwhile. I hiked past this wall probably 20 or 30 times while developing the rest of the North Gym in 2011, and I always intended to bolt it, but I never got around to it for whatever reason. I assumed somebody else would claim it during my 5-year exile to Clear Creek, so I was surprised and stoked to find it still untouched last November. In retrospect I’m really glad I had the opportunity to put these routes in. I’m sure some day in the future, once every route at Cactus Cliff is polished to glass and has a queue 10-ropebags deep, these routes will be well-appreciated by adventurous loners like me.

Fine edging on Be Australian, 5.12a.

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