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Category Archives: 5.12

Hidden Valley Sendage

Lately the Southeast has felt more like “June-tober” than “Rock-tober,” much to the chagrin of every climber that I know.  What’s up with this?!?  This is supposed to be our prime time, with conditions cool and crisp…but instead we all feel like gorillas in the mist.  That said, we knew that the elevation at Hidden Valley would make for cool(er) temps than the surrounding areas, and considering we’ve spent the past four weekends at the New, we figured we could use a change of pace.  And it turned out to be awesome!

“I’m off!” Photo: Jaron Moss

Our plan for Day 1 was for CragDaddy to get a little bit of revenge on Blues Brothers 12a, a route that should’ve gone for him back in August, when he got some awesome photos thanks to Bryan Miller at Fixed Line Media, but unfortunately no send.  However, worthy lines are always worth coming back too, so I was happy to oblige CragDaddy, especially since I was interested in a route that shared the same starting crack – Coneheads #2 12c.  I didn’t really expect 12c to go for me in just one day, so when CragDaddy also walked away empty handed after the first day, it was pretty easy for us to talk ourselves into another Round at the Saturday Night Live wall for Day 2.  And guess what – we both sent!  CragDaddy on his very first attempt of the day (even hanging draws!), and me on my 3rd and final attempt of the day.  

Dinner with these three goofballs back at camp.

This send meant a lot more to me than most – while not my first of the grade, it’s been almost a year and a half since I’ve sent 12c.  And as I look back at the (small) handful of 12c ticks to my name, I think this one is on the harder end of that spectrum.  

I was interested in Coneheads for a couple of reasons.  First of all, thanks to Blues Brothers I knew I could do the start.  Secondly, I knew a female friend of mine was working it, and I’m always more inspired to get on stuff other ladies are doing.  Part of it is a girl power comraderie thing.  It’s also encouraging to know that a route goes for someone that doesn’t have a 7 foot wingspan…

Anyway, Coneheads is an awesome line, and it taught me a lot about the process of redpointing.  The line boasts a little bit of everything – a technical crack with a little bit of burl to it, a weird block move, some juggy overhang, some powerful, bouldery overhang, and a loooooong, exciting crux sequence to the chains on some of the funkiest crimp features I’ve ever seen.  Seriously, one of the key holds was a “thumbercling” using a quartz crystal that looked just like a cigarette had been glued to the wall.  

Enjoying the jugs while I can…

After my first burn I felt so trashed (even on toprope!) that I almost took it down.  Thanks to the encouragement of my crew, I pulled the rope and gave it another go, this time on the sharp end.  I have found that many times the most accurate gauge of “how close” you are on a route comes from the second go, as opposed to the first.  On the first burn, advantage always goes to the rock, because the climber is more or less coming in blind.  But on the second attempt, the playing field is a little more level, and you can get a better assessment of how you stack up against the rock now that you know what to expect – what the moves are like, what the falls are like, where the crux is, where the rests are, what the clipping stances are like, etc.  By the end of the day, I was delighted to have this route down to a two-hang, and to be able to link the entire 10 move crux sequence after a hang.  

On every subsequent burn until the send go (so attempts 2-5), I made subtle but significant changes to my beta to make it flow more efficiently.  The final move of the crux became much more doable while carrying a pump with the addition of 2 intermediate holds.  The bouldery, overhanging section just before the crux was made more efficient by using a different hand hold, and refining EXACTLY where my feet needed to be.  I was able to find two “not good, but hopefully good enough” rest stances that allowed me to lower my heart rate a bit and get a brief shake out.  And of course, taking a LOT of big whippers working the runout crux got rid of the fear factor, which allowed me to fully commit without hesitation when the time finally came.  

Same route, different day. CragDaddy on Blues Brothers, fabulous photo by Bryan Miller of Fixed Line Media

And amazingly enough, “that time” came on the last burn of the weekend.  I was feeling tired, but after attempt number 5 was a solid one hang, I knew I owed it to myself to try one more time.  Even though the crux lasts pretty much until you reach the chains, the hardest move for me always seemed to be the second hand move of the sequence, bumping my left hand from a sloping crimp to a shallow, and dismally sharp, quartz rail.  I had a feeling that if I could just stick that move, I’d have a good shot at a send.  

Not a bad view back at camp…

On my sending burn, I focused really hard on resting the correct amount of time (rush, and you don’t get enough back, linger too long, and you start getting pumped again!), and on making my footwork absolutely perfect setting up for the move that kept spitting me off.  I pasted my foot on the wall, hit the sloping crimp, looked down to hop my right foot up an inch higher…and made the bump successfully!  The rest of the sequence I was on auto-pilot and before I knew it, I was clipping chains on what is probably going to end up being the highlight of my fall season!  

I’d love to hear from everyone else – how’s your fall tick list coming?  For those of you in the Southeast, it looks like we might FINALLY be getting the good stuff from the weatherman soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Be a Climber: Quitting (and re-creating) Your Day Job

The juxtaposition of my life does not go unnoticed by my closest friends and family. On one hand I love order, control, routine. Type A personality stuff. On the other hand, the well-defined and fully explored bores me to death and I crave adventure, the unknown, something new and ever-changing where the outcome is uncertain.

While those seem to be at great odds with each other, they come together in perfect harmony for me in the form of calculated risk. It’s the best of both worlds really. Let me give you a few examples. Before children, I free soloed and did X-rated routes up to 5.12. I can’t actually think of a single case when the route wasn’t an onsight. It had adventure, the terrain was unknown (to me) and the route was new (again, to me). But anyone who has done much of that kind of climbing also knows if it’s too adventurous, too unknown, and the outcome is too uncertain, well then, you can’t do it for very long and live to tell about it. Free soloing for me was equally about control and order. I was intimately familiar with the rock type and the climbing area. I felt, tested, and retested every hold before committing. I never climbed up something I couldn’t climb down. In fact I’ve backed off 5.7s as many times as I’ve backed off 5.11s. Yes there was risk. Yes I could have fallen. But those odds were slim. They were calculated risks.

Here’s another example. I received my Master’s degree in Special Education and found a knack for working with students with emotional disabilities in impoverished neighborhoods (the “ghetto” to you layman folk). Real-deal gangbangers with rap sheets and weapons charges that were known for violence. Most had given up on them so in turn, these types of students were quick to dismiss others (often violently). Calculated risk. I had the educational training – the strategies to diffuse the situation. I also have the personality to relate to them on their level, gain their trust, and push them toward a more positive direction. But it’s not without challenges and sometimes real dangers. I’ve had students get extremely angry – try to punch me, throw chairs at me, and worse. But I had the tools and mindset to get out of those situations (mostly) unscathed. The flip side is that teaching in a public school offers security and routine on some levels, yet every day was different. What worked with a kid yesterday won’t work with that same kid tomorrow. You must always adapt, constantly learn and improve. It kept me on my toes and was a good balance for me for a long time.

Fast forward and here I am, smack-dab in the middle of my thirties. I crave a change – a massive life shake up. Perhaps just ahead of the curve on a mid-life crisis. My mom always said I was advanced for my age. Anyway, teaching has given me so much and I hope that in return I have given something back to the kids I’ve worked with over the last 12 years. But it is too routine now, too “safe”, too familiar. My adult obligation of financial security I owe my family pulls me in one direction while the desire to take a risk and choose a new career path pulls me in another. I could not find balance between the two.

But I’m not a risk taker. While what I wrote above would seem to contradict that to some – what I mean is I’m not an “unknown outcome” kind of risk taker. Imagine this scenario for a minute: You flip a coin. Heads I win a dollar, tails you win a dollar. I do not see it as a 50/50 chance of winning a dollar. I see it as me losing a dollar. The odds are too unfavorable – there is too much risk. I would never agree to flip the coin. The risk must be low. I’ve built too much of a life to gamble any of it. Yet to some degree, there needs to be a little risk to entice me. Where is the balance? It’s different for each of us and it’s taken me a long time to finally find it.

I’ve been a rock climber for more years of my life than not. I’ve worked in gear shops, climbing gyms, for gear manufacturers, and even own a climbing publishing company called Fixed Pin. I have no formal education in “climbing business” but I know it better than anything else, perhaps better than I even know teaching. Climbing is my religion. I’m not a zealot but it is how I decompress, how I commune with nature, and how I rebalance myself. When I’m out of whack, my wife tells me to go climbing and I come home happier, more patient, and a better life partner and father overall. Some drink, some pray. I climb. Climbing is all I want to be around. I want to talk about it, write about it, and well, just do it. Enter Gravity One Climbing + Fitness.

I had always thought starting a climbing gym would be incredible but it seemed a bit too unrealistic for me. They cost millions of dollars to start up after all. But I have found that, perhaps through happenstance, I have been building up to this moment my entire adult life. I have the right experience (work and personal), the right connections, the right motivation, and the right amount of risk tolerance to venture off into the unknown – quit my government job as a public-school teacher that I virtually could never be fired or downsized from and start my own business where I am my own boss. All decisions directly affect me, good and bad. I could win big or I could lose it all. But it’s calculated. And isn’t that what being a climber means? Taking calculated risks. Isn’t that the lesson we all experience every time we go out to the crags? We leave the safety of the ground, where yes, we could fall back down to it. But we have ropes and protection and a trusted belayer to catch us. Things could go wrong – a piece could pull, a clip could be botched, a belayer could give too much slack. But rarely do we experience any of those things. We fall but only a little bit. We take comfort in both the risk itself as well as knowing that those risks have been greatly mitigated. Our partner has us. Our rope and gear will catch us. We push ourselves sometimes to places that are uncomfortable but we revel in that feeling once back on the ground, sometimes hours, days, or even weeks later. We retell those events over beers and around campfires trying to recapture that feeling. To me, that’s what it means to be a climber. Leave yourself exposed just enough to feel uncomfortable but not be in danger. I just feel so fortunate that I’ve finally learned how to carry that over into my professional life and to be able to experience a feeling of balance of calculated risk outside of climbing itself.

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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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!)

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Jesus and Tequila = SENT!!!

“…I’m not sure when, but one of these days I will pull the crux on Jesus and Tequila and not take the swinging whipper.  I’ll stay clean through the dihedral and nail the deadpoint move.  I’ll teeter out across the roof and plant my foot exactly where it needs to be, and execute the final sequence.  I’ll stand at the top and savor the magnificent view of the river below…”

Iphone sending shot, courtesy of Rebekah MacNair

Iphone sending shot, courtesy of Rebekah MacNair

I wrote that exactly 6 months ago in a blog post…And guess what you guys – Saturday was the day!!!  I am absolutely giddy with excitement!!!  Back in January I’d told the CragDaddy that I’d count the entire year as a success if I could just send Jesus and Tequila.  Why?

First off, it’s on the short list of best 5.12’s at the New River Gorge.  And considering the world class quality climbing at the New, that’s saying A LOT.  The guidebook sums it up rather nicely – “...getting pummeled on Jesus and Tequila is a rite of passage for every New River climber…

But for me it’s more personal than just that. It started when I took a casual toprope burn on it at the tail end of the fall season last year.  I instantly fell in love with the unique movement and fantastic position this route offers.   So much so that we completely rearranged our schedule the following week so that I could go back and try to send it.  After botching multiple sequences but somehow still hanging on for ALMOST the entire climb, my luck ran out at the final roof sequence just 10 feet below the chains.  I tried a couple more times that day, but could never make it past the crux on point again, and I was haunted by my almost-send the rest of the winter.

Once spring rolled around we had a hard time finding partners to go back out there with us (probably the hardest part about climbing with kiddos in tow!), but I did manage to spend another day on it back in April.  I felt a lot stronger and more confident on the route, and even figured out much better beta for the roof move I’d previously fallen on.  However, I was ironically unable to get back up there on point.  I made it past the crux once, only to fall on a random move that I’d never had trouble with before.

These two ragamuffins had a great day!

These two ragamuffins had a great day!

One of the things that makes Jesus and Tequila unique is that it’s so “involved.”  There are a LOT of hard moves, and the beta is intricate, so it’s a lot to put together all at once.  It’s tall, and each attempt takes a lot out of the tank – not the kind of route you can try over and over again in the same day. My previous “best go’s” had all come on my 2nd attempt of the day…with subsequent attempts getting progressively worse, until I eventually had all I could do to get to the top of it to get my draws back.

All that said, I knew my window of opportunity this fall might be small, so when I got the chance to go down there on Saturday I jumped at it.  Better yet, a friend of mine wanted to try for the onsight, which meant I didn’t even have to rap in and hang my own draws.

I stepped off the starting boulder and onto the route, and was pleasantly surprised at how well the opening moves went.  Soon enough I found myself shaking out at the 4th bolt, and preparing to head into the crux.  I felt good, but wasn’t sure about my odds at the crux. I’ve fallen on that move more times than I’ve actually made it, but it still feels scary to me, and I usually hem and haw for several seconds before committing to it.  But this time I just powered right through without hesitation.

At this point I panicked a little on the inside.  All of a sudden realized that this was the “time to send.”  I wasn’t ready for this to be “the time.”  I’d assumed that my first go of the day would be more of a beta-confirming mission than an actual redpoint attempt!  I’d wanted to rehearse that move at the roof like 5 times in a row first before it was “time to send.”  But this was only the third time I’d ever made it through the crux without falling, and there was no guarantee it would happen again later that day, so like it or not, this was it.

Little Z and her new friend R.

Little Z and her new friend R.

The next move has a reputation for a redpoint spoiler… it’s not THAT hard, but it’s a big ask when your post-crux forearms are still tingling.  But I got through it as well as the deadpoint move, which was my high point this past spring.  (Thanks to the CragDaddy for shouting out the move for move beta I’d written down for that section!)

All that was left was redemption at the roof.  I executed the new beta I’d figured out in the spring, and it worked like a charm.  I had ZERO trouble getting my foot up (why was it so hard before?!?!?), and before I knew it I was clipping the chains and taking in the view of the river down below with a perma-grin on my face.

Sending smiles...one of us may be more excited than the other.

Sending smiles…one of us may be more excited than the other.

Sure, it would have been pretty sweet to send it by the skin of my teeth last fall.  Had my story with Jesus and Tequila ended then, my memories of it would have been those of fighting hard and desperation, which is not at all a bad thing.  A send is a send, right?  But, after having been given the opportunity to invest more into this route, I can definitely say that the delayed send is a prouder one for me.  The best routes are the ones that push you to train harder.  There is no comparison to the way I climbed this route a year ago and the way I climbed it this past weekend. It was still hard.  Really hard.  And it wasn’t a sure thing until I clipped the anchors.  But I climbed it really, really well.  The way a classic route deserves to be climbed.  Jesus and Tequila has always been a worthy opponent.  But it wasn’t until this past weekend that I was able to step up and prove that I was too.

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Coming back to Training

I basically took this spring off.  Not from climbing.  But from training.  I was doing what most people consider training: Climbing and projecting boulder problems at the gym during the week and climbing outside and trying to send routes on the nice weekends.  I basically “let myself go back to my base ability.”  Of course, that’s not true..but it felt like it.  We are a product of our past training.  It turns out my “not-training” base is climbing 12d second or third go and onsiting 12a and b.  So pretty hard to complain right?  Now that I’m successfully married and honeymooned, its time to get serious with my training.  I think sometimes taking a break is really good – like I am so excited to train right now, I’m bursting with it!
Ryan Smith on Blood Raid 5.13a, New River Gorge.
I’m a dedicated student of training – like all of us right?  So what is my primary weakness?  My natural strength has always been my pure enduro.  I’m a big guy (for a climber) which means I have tons of gas in the tank.  Unless I’m at my limit, I rarely fail on a route because of enduro or power enduro.  Because of my previous hangboarding workouts, my finger strength is awesome – I can hold just about anything.  I will certainly do a new hangboard workout this winter, but I’m skipping my summer hangboard workout to focus on my true weakness:  Power.
If you’re not sure what your weakness is, I would first ask your friends.  Training your strength is good and fun, but its not effective for breaking through barriers.  There are also some online quizzes.  If you’ve never done core training – I’ll tell you right now.  Your weakness is your core.  Especially if you don’t climb “super smooth.”
My climber bro, Ryan’s primary strength is his power, so I’ve been consulting with him and today at the gym, he’s going to take me through a series of ring exercises he’s been doing.  I’ll be training on the rings for core, stabilizer muscles (super important), some pull, and I want to do flies to improve my compression strength – which flat out stinks.  I’m also going to do weighted pull ups as well as train for a one-arm pull up.  I would say right now my 50/50 focus will be the general pull stuff as I described above and the campus board.  Once I get a good base on the pull stuff, I’ll probably move into 80/20 campus board, ring stuff.  I have about ten weeks before I’m going to regularly climbing outside (its hot as crap here anyways.)
All that on top of running of course.  I love running.  Once I get it all sorted out, I’ll post my routines and see if I can get some input from you internet readers.
Lauren Brayack doing some training in Cartagena, Spain
Me doing a little bouldering on the Rock of Gibraltar

Hawksbill Round 2: A New Personal Best!

Though my spring climbing season got off to a slow-ish start, these last few weeks have been unseasonably cool, and have allowed me to string together some hard (for me!) sends.  Since the CragDaddy had spent most of the previous week in NY on business, our family opted for the day trip this past weekend.  After accumulating some sending momentum at the Red the week before,I was psyched and ready to try hard on my project at Hawksbill Mountain.

Eyeing down the mail slot to clip the next bolt from. Photo: Joe Virtanen

Eyeing down the mail slot to clip the next bolt from. Photo: Joe Virtanen

I wrote about Tips Ahoy 12d a couple of weeks ago , when I hopped on it while a friend of mine was working it.  I’d given it 3 burns, and was pleasantly surprised at how doable it seemed.  It plays to my strengths (technical climbing on tiny holds), without featuring any of my glaring weaknesses (of which there are many, but the usual culprits involve slopers and big moves on steep rock!)  Anyway, going in I was cautiously optimistic about my chances.   In contrast to the 100 foot monsters I’d been battling at the Red, this line was only about 60 feet tall, which (hopefully) would mean that endurance wouldn’t be a problem.  Additionally, the weather could not have been any more perfect – temps were in the upper 40’s/low 50’s most of the day (yes 40’s at the end of May!), and the wall wouldn’t even see the sun until some time after lunch.

Crimping hard on one of the few holds big enough to match on the entire route.

Crimping hard on one of the few holds big enough to match on the entire route.

For me, the crux boils down to two moves – a precision stab to a pointy crimp off of two tiny razor blades, then a foot shuffle and long lock off to another pointy crimp.  There’s also a clip that needs to happen at some point from either one of the pointy crimps.  In isolation, the first move is substantially harder than the second move.  But for whatever reason, going into the second move directly after completing the first move feels darn near impossible.  In fact, I don’t think I’d ever successfully made both moves without falling between.  Such. A. Long. Lockoff.  Control is the key here, as moving dynamically to either hold will result in shredded fingertips pretty quickly…but practicing the moves over and over and over and over again to gain the muscle memory is a gamble with the skin as well.

After a quick warm-up a little further down the wall, I took a lap to get the draws hung on Tips Ahoy.  When I touched the two razor blades, I knew it was going to be a good day.  Not only did the holds feel crisp, but my fingers felt a lot stronger!  (thanks, 4×4’s!)  My confidence grew, and I finished the route bolt-to-bolt without much issue.

Funny how the whole wall looks completely devoid of holds...but theyre there! They arent big, but theyre there!

Funny how the whole wall looks completely devoid of holds…but theyre there! They arent big, but theyre there!

My next go was a send that happened so fast it was almost a blur!  The first few bolts went off without a hitch.  I made the first move of the crux, shuffled my feet around, and made the next move for the first time ever in succession.  I almost punted off initiating the traverse, but managed to stay on, then almost biffed AGAIN a few moves later, but once again, still on.  At this point my fingers were so cold that they were completely numb, but there are exactly zero holds big enough for anything to stop and shake out on, so all I could do was keep climbing, and trust my muscle memory on the last 5.11 crimp ladder.  Before I knew it I had clipped the chains and was back on the ground.  Tips Ahoy = DONE!  Woo-hoo!!!

And with that, it looks like spring climbing season has drawn to a close.  This weekend’s forecast is definitely of the summer variety, which means a lot more sweat and a lot less sending!  (But hopefully just as much fun!)

 

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A Red River Gorge Sending Spree!!!

“Some weekends everything falls together and you send.  Other times you work your ass off and walk away empty-handed.  But those “work” weekends are what make the “sending” weekends so magical.”

Those were my words exactly one month ago, after a hard-fought battle with Jesus and Tequila 12b, one of my (many) unsent projects from the New River Gorge last fall.  The “moral” of that post was that investing hard work into a project will EVENTUALLY reap successful dividends, even if you currently have nothing “on paper” to show for it.  That particular weekend was a “work” weekend.  So was the next one, this time on a new project at Hawksbill Mountain.  Both trips sparked a flurry of training in the gym – 4X4’s, roped intervals, core workouts, etc.  All in preparation for one of those “sending” weekends at some point down the road…

Creeping out of the hueco on Mirage 12c

Creeping out of the hueco on Mirage 12c

…which apparently was this past weekend at the Red!  I’m not sure whether it was the training, the SPECTACULAR spring weather conditions, or just a little bit of luck falling in my favor (probably a combination of the 3), but I just enjoyed what was probably one of my strongest climbing weekends ever…and days later I’m still finding my lips poised in a perma-grin.

 Trying to deflate my forearms in the upper hueco on Mirage.

70 feet down, 30 to go! Trying to deflate my forearms in the upper hueco on Mirage.

I drove up to Kentucky with one goal in mind: Galunlati 12b, a route I’d gotten on at the very end of our trip there this past April.  I drove home on Sunday with THREE 5.12 ticks, one of which very well might be the hardest route I’ve ever sent.  Here’s how it all went down:

It's red eft season in the Southeast!

It’s red eft season in the Southeast!

Galunlati 12b:  95 feet of awesomeness.  Tricky, technical crux down low, with a pumpy traverse on crimps halfway up.  No huecos to hop in, but I did find a decent kneebar to rest up before the last 30 feet of 5.10 jugs.  To save time, (at a premium with 4 climbers and two kids), I warmed up by going bolt to bolt…and it did NOT go well, probably because I should NOT be warming up on 5.12.  But I got the draws in and got to rehearse my beta.  Second go the crux felt way easier, but I botched the end of the traverse and fell.  I figured out a better sequence, and my third go was the charm (and send.)

Mirage 12c: 95 feet of even more awesomeness.  I’d wrapped up Galunlati with enough time to do one more route on Day 1, and my friend Bennett had suggested this one.  He’d just sent, and I figured I had nothing to lose since the draws were still up.  The climbing turns on at the 2nd bolt while exiting a big hueco, and does not relent until the 5th bolt.  The moves out of the hueco are precarious and balancy, and the bolt is a lot lower than you’d like it to be, which makes for an exciting combo rather low to the ground.  In fact, my first time up, I actually climbed with the 3rd bolt already clipped so I could work out the moves fear-free.  The next moves are equally tenuous, as well as the next clip.  The crux comes next, between bolts 4 and 5, a deadpoint move to the first decent-sized hold in about 20 feet.  After that, a few more pulls on small, but positive holds leads into a hueco you can lay down in.  The climbing post-hueco is a lot easier – probably no harder than 10a/b, but the angle is still pretty darn steep, and the route keeps going for another 30-40 feet or so.  I was super stoked to get to the top, and very excited to add this one to my tick list for the fall season.

The CragDaddy getting oh-so-close on Abiyoyo 12b

The CragDaddy getting oh-so-close on Abiyoyo 12b

But as luck would have it, our crew ended up back at the Solarium again on Day 2.  Since my “warm up on the project” strategy had been successful the day before, I decided to stick with that.  I struggled on the deadpoint move.  There are a lot of ways to do it, but each seemed ridiculously hard to do when I was pumped, as I most certainly would be on a redpoint run.  I worked the moves for a while until I had to come down out of sheer exhaustion.

A post-dinner hike to the Natural Arch

A post-dinner hike to the Natural Arch

I wasn’t feeling that optimistic for a send on my 2nd go of the day…I knew I could do the moves, but stringing them all together seemed like an impossible feat.  Not to mention that scary clip at bolt 3.  But I tried hard, and actually didn’t fall until the deadpoint move.  I hung, tweaked the beta, and took it to the top.

I waited a good long time before trying it again, cheering on the CragDaddy as he worked Abiyoyo 12b, and sprayed (solicited) beta at our newfound friends from Colorado as they took their turns on Mirage.  When I tied in again, I wasn’t at all confident that I’d even have enough gas to make it to my previous high point.  But before I knew it, I was there…and this time I executed my beta correctly and latched the deadpoint!  I came really close to punting off in the next section, but somehow managed to slide into the hueco with forearms flaming.

I stayed in the hueco until my neck just couldn’t take it anymore…then I moved up into the kneebar to shake out a little more.  The finish was not desperate, but it certainly wasn’t a sure thing.  The pump clock was ticking faster and faster but I just kept moving as fast as I could until both chains were clipped.  YAY!!!!!!!!!!!  An unbelievably amazing (and unexpected!) send for me!

Crossing the creek at Miller Fork.

Crossing the creek at Miller Fork.

On our last day, we decided to check out Miller Fork, a new-ish area that has recently come out with a new guidebook.  It was fun to try a new place, and the routes we got on were good…but the rock quality seemed inconsistent.  The routes we did were all great, but will probably be even better in a few years after more traffic cleans them up a bit.

Weird Science 12a:  This vertical climb was perfect for Day 3 – thin boulder problem down low to moderate climbing.  Very un-Red like (ie, no guns required, just technique), but the neon orange lichen only visible from the top made it worth the effort.

Witness the Citrus 11c:  Also worth mentioning was this monster of a climb.  100+ feet of pure jug haulin’ fun!  Definitely 5 stars!

Climbing can be a very fickle sport.  I’ve learned that having the physical and mental fitness for a certain route is really only a small piece of the puzzle to success.  Sometimes the real crux is having that perfect weather window occur on the days you are actually free to climb, rather than days you are stuck in the office/house/etc.  (And finding someone else that wants to climb at the same area you want to climb at!)  Fortunately for me, all the stars aligned and everything worked in my favor this time.  And with imminent summer heat and humidity on the way, I’m going to savor every minute of this “sending feast” while I still can, knowing the famine is just around the corner!  (And, right on cue, the forecast for THIS Saturday looks pretty dismal…)  😉

Crux moves on Witness the Citrus 11c

Crux moves on Witness the Citrus 11c

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New River Gorge: The (Almost) Day of Reckoning

I'd love to know how many Friday nights our family has spent picnicking at this VA rest area off Hwy 77!

I’d love to know how many Friday nights our family has spent picnicking at this VA rest area off Hwy 77!

If you follow our family on instagram (@cragmama1), you may have noticed a family photo taken along the Endless Wall Trail on Saturday morning, with a caption entitled -“Today is a day of reckoning out the NRG…let’s do this!”  It was my first (and potentially only) chance this spring to send Jesus and Tequila 12b, the mega classic sandbag that I’d came heartbreakingly close to ticking off last November as the fall season closed out.  After some annihilating circuit work in the gym, along with recent success at both the New and the Red in recent weeks, I was feeling reasonably strong and my mental game was in a great space.  I was ready to tackle this monster again.

The first crux of the weekend was finding willing partners to drag down to Endless Wall with me, with a forecast of 70 and sunny.  With no leaves on the trees yet and a wall that bakes in the sun, it was a hard sell.  The CragDaddy was more than willing, but unless I wanted to find Baby Zu rafting down the river after looking away for 10 minutes, we needed someone else as well.  Fortunately for me though, I have some pretty awesome friends who were willing to suffer in the sun with me.  (And actually, they had sunny projects in mind as well, and their alpine start + twilight climbing schedule meshed reasonably well with my midday brawl.)

Trying hard on the J n T crux...

Trying hard on the J n T crux…

UNfortunately for myself and everyone else, however, no one’s efforts on Saturday resulted in a send.  I guess it just wasn’t meant to be…yet.  Except for the obvious fact that I didn’t send it, I feel really good about how the day went.  I gave it 4 tries – one was a bolt to bolt warm-up to re-familiarize myself with the moves.  I was really psyched to figure out a completely different sequence of moves for the upper roof crux…the same move that spit me off last fall on my epic un-send.  The new beta is MUCH more secure and higher percentage, and I am certain that when the time comes to do that move on point, I won’t be falling there again.

...aaaand I'm off.

…aaaand I’m off.

My second go of the day was a one-hang – I fell at the crux after fiddling with my foot placement too much (the rope management is a little weird there.)  I pulled right back up and finished the route strong, and felt really good about my next attempt.  My third go I made it through the crux!  I was pleased at how much I was able to get back at the rest stances, and was thinking it was my time…then I fell at the big deadpoint move.  Ugh.  That move has always been hard for me, but I had never struggled on it until that day.

Big C's super cool nature find along the trail.

Big C’s super cool nature find along the trail.

By this point I was running out of time, but I owed it to myself to give it one more go.  The days will only be getting hotter from here on out, so it was probably my last shot before fall.  Predictably, however, I was pretty gassed, and fell at the crux, again.  Ironically, the deadpoint move felt the most solid as it had all day, and of course, with the new beta, I cruised right through the roof.

I’d be lying if I didn’t feel just a little disappointed, but like my friend Caleb said, “It’s all part of the process.”  The real story here is about an amazing piece of rock that so many people have on their bucket list.  I would consider myself blessed to be able to experience it even once, let alone have a chance to invest so much of myself in it.  This all probably sounds a little silly to a non-climber, but there is a very personal, almost relational, connection, between a climber and a project.  Whether the route is personified as a nemesis that you want to exact revenge upon, or an old friend that you keep coming back to for a friendly duel, the emotional investment can be pretty intense.  For me, I think finding the right balance is key – training hard for a goal and leaving everything out there on the rock is good, and necessary for the send.  But at the end of the day, I hike out with my family with a smile on my face, knowing deep down it’s really just a hunk of rock.

Can you guess which kid is a morning person?!?

Can you guess which kid is a morning person?!?

Sure I wish I would have sent, but this trip was by far not a waste.  The next day I tried hard for a 2nd go send of All the Right Moves 11d, a 100 foot journey with a funky roof crux that had previously seemed really intimidating.  I also came super close on Control 12a, and am confident that those power moves will go down fairly easily when I’m fresh. Not to mention the new roof beta I have for Jesus and Tequila.

CragDaddy cruxin' on Control 12a

CragDaddy cruxin’ on Control 12a

Some weekends everything falls together and you send.  Other times you work your ass off and walk away empty-handed.  But those “work” weekends are what makes the “sending” weekends so magical.  I’m not sure when, but one of these days I will pull the crux on Jesus and Tequila and not take the swinging whipper.  I’ll stay clean through the dihedral and nail the deadpoint move.  I’ll teeter out across the roof and plant my foot exactly where it needs to be, and execute the final sequence.  I’ll stand at the top and savor the magnificent view of the river below, feeling that mix of pure exhilaration and exhaustion that I so wish I could bottle up and sell.  We’ll go out for dinner and I’ll celebrate with a round of margaritas for anyone that wants to join me.  Then I’ll walk the cliff again and wait for inspiration to strike, and the cycle will start all over again.  Ah, thank you God for creating rocks to climb on.  :)

The magnificent view atop J n T.

The magnificent view atop J n T.

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Spring Climbing Season Has Sprung!

CragDaddy fingerlockin on Reckless Abandon 12a

CragDaddy fingerlockin on Reckless Abandon 12a

This past weekend represented the official “start” of spring climbing season for us.  The CragDaddy and I both came into the weekend with somewhat mixed emotions.  On the one hand, we were SO PSYCHED about the chance to get back on a rope, back up to the New River Gorge, and start spending our weekend on the rock again.  Ordinarily there are plenty of opportunities to get some climbing in during the winter on clear, calm days at south-facing crags (sun’s out, gun’s out!)  But this winter it seemed like it rained on just about every free weekend we had, and as a family we have been subsequently going nuts…so the opportunity to spend a whole weekend outside in brilliant weather was heavenly!

On the other hand…neither CragDaddy nor myself felt particularly “ready” for a season of sendage.  Last year at this time,  I was just finishing up an RCTM training cycle, and after planning out every detail or every workout for months, I was ready to reap the benefits of my hard work and commitment.  This year…not so much, due to a myriad of random things that have wreaked havoc on our schedule (starting homeschooling and battling walking pneumonia, to name a few.)  While we’ve been getting to the gym consistently 2-3x per week, the actual days/times vary by the week, which makes sticking to a training program difficult.  Not to mention, climbing hasn’t been occupying much of my focus lately with everything that’s been going on.

Not a bad backdrop to spend your day in front of...

Not a bad backdrop to spend your day in front of…

Needless to say, our performance expectations were NOT very high, to say the least.  My only agenda was to get out and try hard on something that was fun and worth doing.  And it’s a good thing I had a good attitude about it, because aside from one unexpected high note at the end of the trip, I climbed pretty terrible!

These tree stumps (which will be underwater in just a few weeks), are perfect for hiding eggs around, playing house inside, and of course, climbing up!

These tree stumps (which will be underwater in just a few weeks), are perfect for hiding eggs around, playing house inside, and of course, climbing up!

Our weekend started off at Summersville Lake at the Coliseum.  The warm-ups were fairly promising (Talk About It 10b and Do It 11a), but things started heading downhill on Reckless Abandon 12a.  A classic route with  gorgeous position out over the water, it had been on my list to try for a while.  I scrambled up the opening block, got paired up on some good edges and launched for the first big move…again and again and again.  I just couldn’t make the move.  A few times I actually latched the hold for a split second before peeling off, but never once snagged it…Strike 1.

Next I decided to hop on Tobacco Road 12b, a juggy line that traverses right along sharp(!) jugs to a short but powerful crux sequence pulling onto the headwall.  The clip before the crux proved to be a heinous reach for me, but I finally figured out some beta that involved batting at the draw to get it swinging closer so I could reach it.  I figured out the initial part of the crux relatively quickly, but the last move was a giant toss to a hero bucket hold, and once again, I just couldn’t make the move.  Once again, I latched it for a split second, but never once snagged it.  After just a few tries I lowered off, getting tired of having to boink back up every time I fell.  Apparently the move used to be substantially easier up until recently when an intermediate hold broke off, so too bad I didn’t get on it before!  I’m pretty sure with a little more work I can do it in it’s current state, as it felt far more doable than Reckless for me, but apparently it wasn’t meant to be this weekend! Strike 2.

The next day was spent at Butcher’s Branch, where I set my sights a little lower (or so I thought), on Bicycle Club 11d.  Everyone says this one is easier than it’s 11c neighbor, Sancho Belige, which I’d sent 2nd go a while back, so I was optimistic that I’d be able to put this one down relatively quickly.  But FOR THE THIRD TIME, I tossed for the big move at the 1st bolt (a relatively non-move for my taller partners), and FOR THE THIRD TIME I just couldn’t make the move.  Again and again and again.

The CragDaddy reaching tall on the Reckless Abandon move that shut me down.

The CragDaddy reaching tall on the Reckless Abandon move that shut me down.

Up until this point I had still been in pretty good spirits despite my dismal performance.  I’ve found that when I am in a season of life that is not as focused on training, I’m not as emotionally invested in the routes I’m doing, and I don’t get as frustrated when things don’t go my way.  But STRIKE 3 did not feel good!  My friend Sam convinced me to try Ministry 12b with him, and since he sent it first go, I opted to toprope it first so I could get his draws back without shenanigans if things didn’t go well (after all, my track record up until this point wasn’t looking good.)

Tobacco Road 12b

Tobacco Road 12b

I’d been on Ministry before, a couple of years ago, and had been unable to make it to the top.  It’s basically fun 5.10+ climbing for a handful of bolts, where a crimpy boulder problem awaits at the top.  This time around I surprised myself by figuring out a crux sequence that worked for me, albeit via two pretty terrible rounded crimpers (aka “slimpers.”)  The moves felt pretty darn hard, and I wasn’t at all confident about sending, but I tried again anyway.

That little pointer finger...;)

That little pointer finger…;)

As soon as my right hand hit the first hold of the crux sequence, I felt my attitude shift.  For the first time that weekend, I really wanted it.  It was like something switched on in my brain and I all of a sudden wanted to fight for the send.  Each move felt easier than the last, and before I knew it, I was standing at the chains.

Me going "full blowfish" on Ministry 12b

Me going “full blowfish” on Ministry 12b

Emotions are a very curious thing.  The feeling that I get when I am in the heat of a redpoint attempt on a project I’ve poured a lot of myself into is indescribable.  I can ride that high for weeks, and if I could bottle it and sell it, I’d be set for life!  But unfortunately that feeling can be as fleeting as it is strong.  And for me, I have a hard time sending if I don’t want it bad enough.  Perhaps that was part of my problem earlier in the weekend?  Maybe Ministry awakened some psych that had been hibernating over the winter.  Then again maybe I really am just weak and out of shape from the crazy couple of months we’ve just had.  More than likely, it’s a little bit of both.  But either way, I’m looking forward to upping my psych level at the Red River Gorge next week.  Spring has sprung!!!

 

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[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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