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Category Archives: 5.12

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!!!

 

Related Images:

[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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The Blessings of Jesus and Tequila

A lot of people tout that Jesus and Tequila 12b (aka “J ‘n T”) is the best 5.12 in the New River Gorge (and I wouldn’t disagree.)  Some people even argue that it’s the best route in the Gorge, period. I’ve even heard more than one person say it is the best route they have EVER touched.

Well, with that introduction, you know it’s not gonna be a gimme for the grade, right? While grades are of course highly subjective, J ‘n T has a pretty solid consensus that 12b is a big fat sandbag (unless you are my one friend that downgrades everything ;))  12c gets tossed around a lot, and I’ve even  heard 12c/d.  I can’t really weigh in that much, as I don’t have enough mileage at the 12c level to compare, and honestly I don’t really care.  Regardless of grade, it’s exposure, position, rock quality, movement, and overall “badassity” make it a worthy tick for any climber.
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And for me personally it feels far more doable than a lot of other 12b’s I’ve tried, but that probably comes down to the style of climbing.  There are multiple cruxes, but individually none are insanely hard.  It’s the New, so there are of course some long reaches, but they are set up well for shorter climbers (and if anything, the high feet required for some of the moves might actually favor the vertically challenged.)

Although it’s been on my radar ever since I toproped it once a couple of years ago, my recent obsession with J ‘n T actually only began a week and a half ago. After unsuccessfully trying to tick New World Order 12a, I took a few toprope burns on it while my friend was working it.  It was pretty intimidating (hence the toprope), but darned if it didn’t feel like it might go…and soon!  And with that, what was supposed to be our last NRG trip of the season turned into our second to last, and just 6 days later I found myself standing atop the giant boulder at the base of the route once more.

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I warmed up by going bolt to bolt.  It did not go well.  The rock was really cold, and the opening moves felt really slippery.  The crux felt scary, and I had a lot of trouble committing to the move.  But eventually I got to the chains.  Considering that performance, I didn’t have my hopes set extremely high for my next go – I would have been happy to get a 1 or a 2 hang out of it.

But you guys! (or ya’ll, if you’ll indulge my southern roots.)  I almost sent it.  I SHOULD have sent it.  (And actually, if the original anchors would have still been in place, I WOULD have sent it.)  It wasn’t pretty.  The first half went well, but i struggled with the heady 5th clip (next time longer draw!), and completely botched my beta for the crux.  I still have no idea how I managed to hang on.  The very next move almost spit me off as well, and the deadpoint up high was not a sure thing.  But miraculously I found myself stemming precariously under the final roof. I took some deep breaths and visualized the final sequence, which involves tiptoe-ing out across a wildly exposed face 80 feet off the deck, grabbing a pair of terrible sloping crimps, and lunging for a pretty good sidepull.  I DID IT!

All that was left was for me to get an awkwardly high left foot onto a point and rock up to a standing position, and the send would be mine.  Now the problem with that foot is that my body is so extended on those terrible sloping holds that I can only lift my foot so high before my butt is too far away from the wall and I lose purchase with my hands.  Going bolt to bolt I’ve always been able to do it, but barely.  However, any time I’ve come in even the slightest bit tired, I’ve had to smear my foot on a lower, much worse hold, then slide it over real quick once my momentum starts moving upward.  It’s more insecure, but it’s always worked…until this time.

I tried at first to get the left foot in the “right” spot.  One, twice, three times.  My toes were scuffing just left of where I needed to be, and I was starting to get pumped.  I needed to retreat back to the dihedral where I could stem and regroup at a no hands stance, but now that my left hand was up above the roof, I couldn’t reverse the move.  The clock was ticking, so I put my foot on the consolation smear and committed my weight to it.  And I slipped off.  Less than 10 feet away from the anchors, after having done every single hard move but one, I slipped off.  I was THERE…and yet I found myself dangling helplessly below the roof, looking up at that blasted foothold that had thwarted my send.

After taking a moment to collect myself, I jugged back up, finishing the route easily in a very awkwardly anti-climactic way.

“That was a great burn, I’m proud of you for going ‘a muerte’” one of my friends said (the same one that downgrades everything.)

At least one of us was psyched about waking up to snow the next morning.

At least one of us was psyched about waking up to snow the next morning.

He was right.  It WAS a great burn, far better than my expectations.  And I WAS proud of myself.  And since we still had a few more hours of daylight I was optimistic that I’d be able to get redemption before the day was out, but on my next attempt I fell at the crux…and by the time I got on it a 4th time I was too exhausted to even get to the crux clean.  The next day featured sub-freezing temps, gray skies, and even some snow flurries, so after exploring around under the bridge, we called it an early day and headed home.

But hey, at least I’m in good company.  The description in the guidebook reads like this:  “Getting pummeled on Jesus and Tequila is a rite of passage for every New River climber…the route used to finish at a station under the final roof, but Jonny Woodward moved it to the top, adding one more insecure crux that has foiled many redpoint efforts.”  

In a lot of ways, my performance on Jesus and Tequila pretty much sums up my fall climbing season.  I came back from Ten Sleep with psych that was out the roof, ready to take my east coast game to the next level.  But while I’ve nabbed a few good sends here and there, I feel like I’ve mostly had a lot of almost-sending-but-not-quite-putting-it-all-together moments, which had left me feeling frustrated at climbing, especially at the New.  (#firstworldproblems I know, just trying to be authentic here!)

But all that said, my almost-send of Jesus and Tequila has ended my NRG season on an ironically positive note that makes the entire season feel worthwhile.  I put in a lot of work on routes that have pushed me out of my comfort zone as well as taught me a lot.  Techman, for example, forced me to get creative to maximize my reach, whereas New World Order improved my coordination and agility skills.  Jesus and Tequila boosted my confidence and brought back some of the fight and determination to my climbing that I hadn’t even realized was missing.  And the most encouraging part?  Those routes will still be there 4 months from now, primed and ready to be ticked.  It’s gonna be a fun spring!  But for now, it’s time to get fat and happy with the fam over the holidays.  Happy Turkey Day everyone!

Related Images:

[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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Wyoming Adventure Part Deux: First Days at Ten Sleep

If you’re new around here, I’m recapping our family’s recent exploits in Wyoming, a few days at a time.  If you missed Part 1 (the Lander edition), click here to catch up!  For the deets on our first few days in Ten Sleep, read on!

After an easy Saturday drive from Lander to Ten Sleep, we awoke on Sunday morning psyched and ready to crank out the long hike to the Sector Shinto wall in the French Cattle Ranch area.  After a quick warm-up on an uncomfortably sharp 10a (Great Green Gobs…), we turned our sights to the main objective for the day, and possibly even the whole trip, Center El Shinto 12b/c.

Shaking out before the business on Center El Shinto 12b/c

Shaking out before the business on Center El Shinto 12b/c

"CLIP IT!"

“CLIP IT!”

This 5 star classic is one of the most popular 12’s in the canyon, and for good reason.  This route is technical face climbing at its finest – very sustained movement on stellar rock, and recently upgraded to a b/c “slashie” in the latest guide.  The crux is about 2/3 up, and includes a really difficult clip from a core intensive stance.  Having dogged my way up it on our last visit 3 years ago, I was hoping it would go down pretty quickly, considering I’m a lot stronger now than I was then…but after taking a crux beating while hanging draws, my confidence was more than a bit shaken.  But knowing that the 2nd go is ALWAYS easier (draws are in, moves are familiar), I got on it again, hoping to at least make it through the hard clip this time before popping off.

Creek-crossing shenanigans...

Creek-crossing shenanigans…

I made it up to the crux a lot more efficiently than before, and assumed the tenuous clipping position.  I did NOT feel secure, and for a half-second contemplated grabbing the draw (how I’d made the clip before.) But my belayer shouted, “CLIP IT!”, so I did.  The next few moves were thin, but I got through them to a decent stance.  The upper bit wasn’t nearly as hard the 2nd time around, and before I knew it, I found myself clipping the chains.  Woo-hoo!

We still had time left in our day, so I decided I may as well take a run up Left El Shinto 12b, another must do on the wall. and another one who’s grade was changed in the latest guidebook (this time downgraded from 12c.)  The initial boulder problem off the ground was really thin and balancy, and actually felt harder than the crux on Center, but the rest of the climbing was less sustained and with better rests.  It was a fight to stay on in places, but I made it through to nab my hardest onsight yet (further confirmation that it wasn’t really 12c ;)).

That evening as we sat around reflecting on our day, I realized that I had just had what was probably my strongest climbing day ever – first 12b onsight, and first time bagging two 5.12’s in a day.  Crag-Daddy noted that my lifetime 5.12 count was up to 29…we had 3 more climbing days in Ten Sleep, and if I could keep up my two-a-day pace, I’d be sending my 35th 5.12 on my 35th birthday!  As cool as that sounded, I thought it was probably a little ambitious for a road trip goal, but I kept it in the back of my mind just in case…

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CragDaddy on his way to onsighting Tricks for You 12a.

The next day we hiked in to the Superratic Pillar, this time via the upper parking lot.  Although shorter in distance, it ended up taking the same amount of time to get there due to some creek crossing shenanigans.  We started on Tricks are for Hookers 11b, a fun climb that ended up being a great warm-up for our next route that was just to the right – Tricks for You 12a.  Tricks for You was an engaging and enjoyable journey up the center of the wall.  Nothing too powerful, but very methodical movement with calculated footwork.  We both sent 1st go (and props to the Crag-Daddy for his first 12a onsight!)

Caleb getting draws up on Great White Behemoth 12b

Caleb getting started on Great White Behemoth 12b

Meanwhile, our “third man” Caleb had been around the corner hanging draws on another 5-star classic – The Great White Behemoth 12b (or “12b+” as it reads in the new guide, whatever that means!)  And while Behemoth was in many ways just as technical as Tricks for You, it was also much more powerful and bouldery – big moves off small pockets and tiny footholds.  I went bolt to bolt to start with, and while I didn’t struggle too much with any individual move, the thought of putting the whole thing together seemed beastly intimidating, as there was a lot of sequencing that needed to be executed just right.  But since I’d put in the work, I knew I owed myself a 2nd go.

Guy beta

Guy beta

Girl beta...I promise my elbow is not out of joint, its just a weird photo angle!

Girl beta…I promise my elbow is not out of joint, its just a weird photo angle!

Round 2 on Behemoth started out surprisingly smooth, and soon I was at the last hard sequence.  I completely forgot my beta, but thanks to accidentally finding a hidden foothold, I muddled through it, and latched the hold our crew had dubbed the “5.10 jug.”  (Without considering the pump factor, from this point the last 20 feet of climbing was probably no harder than 5.10.)

“I’m gonna send it!” I thought to myself as I shook out, took some deep breaths and waited for some feeling to come back into my forearms again…but I quickly realized that I was pumped beyond the point of repair.  The pump clock was ticking and I needed to get moving.  You know those old school arcade racing games where the clock starts ticking down, down, down, and then you hit a checkpoint that gives you +5 seconds to get to the next checkpoint, and so on?  The last 20 feet of Behemoth felt exactly like that, as my sending mantra quickly morphed into “Oh sh#$ I’m gonna blow it!”

Trying hard not to punt off Great White Behemoth 12b

Trying hard not to punt off Great White Behemoth 12b

I was redlining the entire way, and just when I felt like my hands were going to involuntarily open up, I’d hit a hold that was just good enough to buy me a few more moves to the next decent hold, and so on…until I finally came screaming (literally) into the anchors.  I was in grave danger of punting off with a handful of rope when I remembered there was a good stemming stance to clip from…PHEW!  And thus went the Great White Behemoth…which, at 2nd go, was probably not the route I’ve worked the hardest for overall, but it’s a definite contender for the hardest fight in a single go.  I was incredibly excited that it went down, and also super psyched to still be on pace for my “35th on my 35th goal!

The requisite "Christmas card photo with stunning background" shot.

The requisite “Christmas card photo with stunning background” shot.

 

While that may have ended our climbing adventures for the day, the hike out was anything but uneventful. Remember the creek crossing shenanigans I mentioned on the way in?  We had to find a different way across this time, because as we came down the hill and around the corner, we came face to face with a large bull moose about 30 feet down the trail!  It was definitely a little unnerving, as thick brush on one side, a creek on the other, and a big hill to our backs didn’t leave a lot of room to get out of his way should he get feisty!  Thankfully he seemed more curious than concerned about us, and after posing rather stoically for the camera, went back to his grazing while we bushwhacked around trying to find another way to get across the creek.  In the process, we discovered that our handsome friend had a lady friend as well, which added even more drama to a sketchy log crossing over shallow (but frigid and rushing) water!

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At the end of the trip, we all sat around and talked about which days were our favorites of the whole trip.  For me, it was a close call between the two days I just described – amazing climbing that shattered PR’s for both Crag-Daddy and I, and a spectacular nature encounter!  Pretty hard to beat, although there were others in our crew who voted for what was yet to come, so don’t forget to come back next week to check out the recaps from the rest of our time at Ten Sleep, as well as our brief exploits in Logan Canyon!

 

Related Images:

[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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A Family Sunday “SEND-day” at Kaymoor

Happy child in the dirt.

Happy child in the dirt.

Our good luck with good climbing conditions has fortunately continued into late spring (which probably means we’ll be smothered by a hot blanket of humidity any day now.)  And while 80’s may not be ideal sending temps, the weather felt darn near perfect for June in the Southeast…so off to the New we went!

We decided to climb in the shade at Kaymoor on Day 1.  Steve was psyched to work Lost Souls (5.12a), and I figured it was probably about time for me to give that one another try.  I’d been on it several times before Baby Zu (most notably of which was during the NRG Craggin’ Classic back in 2012 for some Trango photos), and it never went particularly well.

For those not familiar with this classic, it’s one of those that gets the grade based on linking the sum of its parts rather than individual moves.  There are 3 cruxes, all of which are giant jug to jug tosses.  Very straightforward, and the very definition of power endurance.  It’s a very common “first 5.12″ since none of the individual moves are that “hard” compared to other similarly graded routes in the area (ie, anything Endless Wall.)  So if you are a tall climber that loves gymnastic movement, get out there ASAP for an easy send!  If you are vertically-challenged and/or lean towards more technical climbs…you should still get on it because it’s awesome!  (But bring your “try hard” pants and be ready to launch!)

Happy, dirty, child #2

Happy child in the hammock.

The Crag-Daddy (Steve) went up first and managed a one-hang even while hanging draws, so things were looking pretty good for him.  My first run, however, was dismal.  I started hanging before the 1st bolt, and struggled on just about every move.  My performance was so ridiculously bad that I almost didn’t get on it again.  However, of late I’ve been surprising myself on the 2nd go, so I thought I’d give it at least one more burn.

Steve made it through all 3 cruxes on his second go!  And also his 3rd and 4th go…unfortunately the pump factor kept spitting him off literally one move away from the no hands rest at the end of the traverse!  My 2nd go was decidedly better than the 1st – I did the 1st crux clean, and the 2nd and 3rd cruxes only took a couple of tries.  My 3rd go was even more progress – just one fall each at the 2nd and 3rd cruxes.

I was definitely in better spirits by that point, but still unsure whether I had a send in me or not.  I had crazy shortie beta for the 2nd crux, and I had never been able to link it with ANY of the previous moves, let alone coming in hot on a redpoint run.  Steve convinced me to give it one more try,, and I shocked myself with an almost send!  I made it clean all the way through to the last toss.  I had the distance…but my arms were so pumped that I couldn’t open my hand in time to latch the jug, and I ended up bashing my knuckles into the wall (FYI we refer to that phenomenon as “T-Rexing…”).

Flying feet on big move #1

Flying feet on big move #1

I was disappointed I didn’t send, but thrilled to know that my beta was solid.  It was the first time I actually believed that the route could go at the current fitness level I was at, rather than always thinking “Come back when you’re stronger.”  But lucky for us the whole crew had unfinished business at Kaymoor, so it was a no-brainer to come back the next day.

I did everything I could think of that night to maximize recovery – good food, lots of water, Arm-aid, finger acupressure, yoga, and as much sleep as I could muster in a tent with a 15 month old that hates sleeping.

Shortie undercling beta for Big Move #2

Shortie undercling beta for Big Move #2

Sunday dawned a little bit warmer, but the rock still felt surprisingly crisp.  Steve was up first and sailed through the first three cruxes yet again…but YET AGAIN fell inches before the rest!  I was feeling good, but not at all like a send was a sure thing, as any of the cruxes could easily spit me off if I didn’t execute them perfectly. But thankfully my first go of the day was my last – my beta worked, and the send was mine!  (And Steve sent next go as well, which made for a happy ride home for the whole family.)

One big, happy family!

One big, happy family!

After Lost Souls, there was still plenty of time left to climb, so I rounded out my day with Hardcore Female Thrash (5.11c) and Boing (5.10d).  Hardcore Female Thrash is a one move wonder that moves up a very cool dihedral feature (took 2 tries for the send), and Boing is a high-steppin’ slab climb.  Both are fantastic lines that are definitely worth hopping on if you find yourself in the area.

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