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Tuck Fest 2017: Deep Water Solo Competition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEEDING ROUND (Saturday morning)

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

Going big…and finding success!

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

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

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

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

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

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

FINALS!  (Saturday afternoon)

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

First round of finals…photo creds: Jennie Jariel

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

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Sending Spree: Drew Ruana takes on The New

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5.13d
Natural Progression 2nd go

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

5.13b/c
B.C. 2nd go

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

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

Photos by Trevor Blanning

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

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

Easter Eggs –

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

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

Climbing –

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

CragDaddy starting the business of Gristle 12a

The Car Ride From Hell –

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

Just before the crux, Gristle 12a

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

My poor, sweet girl.

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

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

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

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Anniversary Trip to Hidden Valley

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

Cheesy love selfies totally allowed on anniversary trips.

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

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

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

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

Rodent’s Lament 13b Photo: Nick Hitchcock

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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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10 Alpine Climbing Tips

Are you dreaming of high alpine peaks? Beautiful sublime faces of rock and ice? Surreal corniced ridges and crimson sunsets? Alpine climbing is one of the most committing and unforgiving forms of climbing, but with a little practice and solid game plan it can be safe and extremely rewarding!

Here are a few tips that will help make your next alpine adventure enjoyable and fun!

1. Pick your partner wisely.

It’s one thing to go cragging for the day with someone. But going to Alaska for 21 days to attempt a nail-biting alpine climb is another story. The last thing you want is to argue and bicker like an old married couple. You might be the best of friends at sea level, but after a few days shivering on icy ledges, tensions can spin out of control quickly! I like to do some warm up climbs with potential partners–see how our personalities mesh, and how the vibe goes. I seek partners that are solid as a rock, cool under pressure, and can find comedy even in the most rugged and challenging of situations.

2. Leave your comfy lightweight inflatable mattress at home.

As tempting as it is to splurge on the expensive blow up mattress with a high R-value, you’ll be left trying to care for it like a fine piece of china. It will more than likely pop when you need it most, and leave you shivering and sleepless all night. Take a closed cell foam pad cut down to just provide coverage for your body.

3. Take extra gloves

Your glove quiver is the single most critical item on the mountain. By day’s end, after brushing off snow and belaying wet ropes, your gloves will be wet and soggy. And if your hands get cold, frostbite can set in quickly, rendering you almost useless, a very dangerous place to be. Gloves never dry out, not even in your sleeping bag, and will freeze over night. It seems ludicrous to bring 5-8 pairs of gloves for a 5 day alpine mission, but I do!
4. Drink your water cold to save critical fuel

Water is very important when you’re working 12-16 hours a day. It will help prevent cold injury and ensure maximum athletic performance. As delicious and soul-warming as it is to sip hot tea at every stop, save your hot beverage for the bivy. Remember fuel is heavy! I ration one medium 250 gram can of gas per day for two.

5. Mitigate objective hazard

I scrutinize a route for hours, days, even months! I am careful to note potential terrain traps and loose rock, keeping in mind prevailing winds and snow pack. I do my best to avoid climbing under seracs and am always considering my retreat options.

6. Bring at least one adze for the team

After climbing all day, the thought of spending two hours chopping a bivy platform is agonizing. But comfortable sleep won’t come until you do. Having an adze will streamline your efficiency and get you off to dreamland sooner so you can be fresh for your next day of adventure.

7. An iPod Nano or Shuffle can boost moral like no other!

I usually download half hip-hop and metal to get me fired up, and than some mellow reggae to cool me down. Additionally, my small point and shoot camera goes on a tether off my micro zipper and lives in my left chest pocket near my skin in a base layer. This ensures the battery stays warm and functional.

8. Take a lightweight sleeping bag and wear all your layers to bed

Sure, I strip off wet Gore-Tex if need be, but often I just crawl right into my bag with my whole kit on excluding my boots. This provides an extra layer of warmth and saves precious time. Often I want to stay tied in, so I sleep in my harness or use a sling around my waist. I sleep with my boot liners in my bag to keep them from freezing.

9. Master the art of the descent

Rappelling a 5000-foot face can seem daunting and downright terrifying. But with creativity and ingenuity, descending can be fun and rewarding. Often it’s safer then slogging down avalanche prone slopes. Slings and cordelettes can be cut up and equalized. Nuts, if placed correctly, can be bombproof and much cheaper than leaving a cam. V threads in the ice are the most efficient and low impact. I simply tie a loop knot in what ever I’m rapping off to avoid leaving costly carabiners. And remember, the Prusik back-up is paramount in the event you’re hit by falling stones or must fidget with your next bombproof anchor.

10. Most importantly, bring your positive attitude and be ready to adapt and overcome to what ever is thrown at you

The mental challenge is what I like most about alpine climbing. Like in life, things do not always go as planned. Successful people are good at improvising and can stay motivated even in uncomfortable and difficult situations. Stack the odds in your favor before going, and practice pertinent skills – ice and snow climbing, dry tooling, aid climbing, rope ascension, self-rescue, and first aid. And remember, if things start to go wrong, and you feel like you’ve gotten yourself in over your head, retreat and come back to fight another day!

2016: Tis the Season for a Year in Review

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Mirage 12c

In my tick list for 2016 I stated that one of my main goals was to “focus more on the process than crossing something off the list.”  And by that I meant that I wanted to be more picky in the routes that I invest extra time on, choosing quality over quantity.  At the end of 2015 I found myself easily frustrated at the amount of routes I had “unfinished business” on.  Our family’s climb time is at a premium, and the logistics of getting back to certain climbs with an extra partner often ends up being a crux.  So this year I made a point of giving myself a free pass to walk away from routes I didn’t necessarily feel called back to – just because I believe I CAN send it doesn’t mean I HAVE to.  In other words, if it’s fun and feels worth my while, give it another go, train for it, etc.  If not, leave it undone for now…or forever!

Practically speaking, this meant spending MORE time on LESS routes, often choosing to try something harder that I knew I probably wouldn’t send rather than logging more mileage at a more comfortable grade/style.  The result was that I wound up with far fewer ticks on my sending belt than the previous year…but the ones I did get are a lot more meaningful.

It’s also no surprise that many of my year end highlights did not result in an updated 8a card.  But the following are my top ten climbing moments of 2016.

10. “TRY HARD” BOULDERING:  This summer the CragDaddy challenged me to step up my bouldering game at the gym.  Power tends to always crop up as a weakness of mine, and I’ve decided that it’s actually just as much a movement/coordination issue as it is strength/power; ie, I default to static movement that often times doesn’t allow me to “tap in” to any power that I might already have.  Anyway, I surprised myself and actually had a LOT of fun throwing myself around the boulder problems at the gym, and I’ve seen some really good gains.  Who knows, maybe next year’s tick list will include some boulder problems?

9.  LEGALIZE IT 12a and WAKE AND BAKE 11d (Red River Gorge) – After blowing the flash right at the end of the 12, I redeemed myself with a pretty casual second go send, and an onsight of it’s slightly easier next door neighbor.  Not my hardest onsight ever, but hardest one in at least a year, probably since Ten Sleep last summer.

8.  GALUNLATI 12b (Red River Gorge):  This is the route that made me fall in love with the Solarium, which is now my favorite crag at the Red.  Not only is it awesome, but it was my first (and so far only) 12b at the Red.

Enjoying the view from the Tree Ledge

Stone Mountain multi-pitch with the CragKiddo

7.  BLACKHAPPY 12b (New River Gorge) – I knew I wasn’t going to send this one on my 2nd go.  But it went a lot better than I expected, and I was happy that I gave it another effort rather than  finding something easier to end the day on.  It’s a long hike in for the kids, but I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to work on this one some more next spring.

Line of Fire 12c Photo creds: Justin Hedrick

Line of Fire 12c Photo creds: Justin Hedrick

6.  ORANGE JUICE 12c (Red River Gorge) – I’ve been dying to touch this route ever since I first laid eyes on it in 2012.  I knew I didn’t have the guns for it then (and I’m not sure I do now…).  But I sure was psyched to give it a couple of tries this past November, and after feeling how hard those upper cruxes were, I’m even more psyched I was able to execute all the moves on point.  No send, and no plans to come back any time soon, as neither the hike nor the cliff base are great for the kids.  But experiencing this 5 star classic that I’d wondered about for so many years was amazing!

5.  CRAGKIDDO’s 1st MULTI-PITCH – I wasn’t the only one that came to terms with walking away with unfinished business this year.  Big C experienced this when we had to bail just one pitch below the summit on his very first multi-pitch endeavor at Stone Mountain back in February.  Despite not making it to the top, I was so proud of how brave he was (and he was too, once he got down and saw where our high point was on the mountain!)

4.  MIRAGE 12c (Red River Gorge):  Did I mention that I love the Solarium?  This one was a completely unexpected send at the end of a fabulous spring weekend at the RRG.

3.  TIPS AHOY 12d (Hawksbill Mountain):  First ever 12d!  Sharp microcrimps on an ever so slightly overhanging face…if only I could find a zillion more like this.

Tips Ahoy 12dPhoto: Joe Virtanen

Tips Ahoy 12dPhoto: Joe Virtanen

2.  LINE OF FIRE 12c (Hawksbill Mountain):  Even though grade-wise this one is easier than the previous one, I think I’m more proud of this send.  In the same breath everyone told me I’d like Tips, they also told me that I probably wouldn’t like Line of Fire, due to the dynamic, bouldery moves.  My first time up, I agreed with everyone else, and I only got on it again because the CragDaddy was still working Tips.  It took a while to find beta that worked for me, but the 7th try was the charm, and when it went I had it so dialed in it almost felt easy.

1. JESUS AND TEQUILA 12b (New River Gorge) – Last year I said that if I sent only one route the entire year, I wanted this one to be it, and if that truly was the only one, I’d count the year as a success. I’ve got a lot of emotion wrapped up in this one, and I know that it’s one of those that I’ll still remember vividly when I’m old, gray, and can’t even toprope my kids’ warm-ups.  After multiple heartbreaker attempts, crushing this one in unexpectedly fine style this past November was by far the highlight of the year!

And that’s that!  Please don’t let me spray by myself…I’d love to hear about your favorite achievements this past year (climbing related or not!)  So comment below so we can cyber clink our glasses to 2016.

 

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Red River Gorge in November

Orange Juice 12c in all of it's fall glory

Orange Juice 12c in all of it’s fall glory

While my heart will probably forever belong to the New, I do really like the Red, and I so wish the Red was a lot closer.  I also wish it was a lot less crowded.  But one thing we didn’t have to wish for this past weekend was better climbing conditions…because it was darn near perfect!

Our first day was spent at Funk Rock City.  Yes, our motivated crew of 3 adults and 3 children (two of which are under 3) did the 45 minute slog across the creek and up the mountain side just so that I could finally try a route I’d been drooling over since 2012 – Orange Juice 12c. (Thanks guys!)  My trip got off to a great start with an onsight of OJ’s easier next door neighbor – There Goes the Neighborhood 11c.

Orange Juice ascends a beautiful, vertical, orange face littered with pockets and small edges.  There are 3 cruxes on the route, with fairly mellow (11a?) climbing in between.  The first crux is probably the easiest of the three, but also the scariest because it’s not that high off the ground.  The next one is a super long move from okay crimps to a jug.  Of the seven people who worked this route that day (yes 7…on a weekday?!?), all of them dyno’d except for the CragDaddy and I. The final crux was in my opinion by far the hardest – a slopey crimp/mono pocket combo to a big move off of a pair of “snake-eye” mono pockets.  Once again, CragDaddy and I did something completely different than everyone else, and only slightly different than each other (they all went right, we went left…)

CragDaddy on Abiyoyo 12b

CragDaddy on Abiyoyo 12b

Due to the crowds I only got in 2 burns, neither of which was anywhere close to a send, but I felt really good about being able to figure out my own beta for all of the moves.  It’s too bad it’s such a pain to get back to, otherwise I’d say this route would be on the short list for next spring for sure….and it still might be, even so!

Day 2 the CragDaddy got to choose the destination, and he chose the Solarium at Muir Valley, where he was hoping to earn redemption on his project from last spring – Abiyoyo 12b.  I had mixed feelings about getting on it with him.  The guide book says that the crux move will feel significantly harder if you are sub 5’8″ (I’m 5’5″).  On the one hand, I’ve been working really hard on climbing “tall,” and this crux would be a good test.  On the other hand, one of the reasons I love the Red is that it typically doesn’t have those giant blank sections of wall devoid of intermediate features (the ones that you see all the time at the New, even randomly on routes that are otherwise pretty easy.)

But after weighing my options, my curiousity got the better of me, as well as the fact that CragDaddy and I really enjoy working routes together.  The verdict?  “The move” is definitely harder for me than CragDaddy.  He can skip a nice row of sloping crimps that I have trouble getting established on without being too extended to move my feet up.  I actually ended up skipping those holds as well, and ended up doing a weird pinch thing off of two tiny pockets that were several inches below the row of crimps.  However, considering the huge jug rest right before the crux (and especially considering the sit down rest in the hueco 10 feet below that), the one move wonder didn’t feel any harder than V5 or so for me, which still seems very reasonable for a 12b, especially a “reachy” one.  If this route was at the New, nothing at all would be mentioned about the move being height dependent.

If fun was measured in dirt, these guys would have the most.

If fun was measured in dirt, these guys would have the most.

That being said…neither of us sent the route.  I kept falling at the crux, but CragDaddy got extremely close on his last attempt – the crux itself may be fairly easy for him, but the next few moves are long and powerful and pack a pump pretty quick.  Thanks to the crowds (again) we were both disappointed at the amount of climbing we were able to get in (6 pitches in 2 days…and we were first in the parking lot both days.)

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So for our last day, we opted for an area we’d never been to, but looked off the beaten path enough to avoid the throngs of forearm blasters – the slab/vertical climbing at Crossroads in the PMRP.  And what a great choice!  Our warm-up, Fairweather Friends 10d, was super fun, and I was able to walk away with two more great sends. Legalize It 12a was soooo close to a flash for me, until I botched a foot placement right at the last bolt.  It went 2nd go pretty easily, which allowed me to hit a milestone of 50 lifetime 5.12 ticks!  My last route of the trip also ended on a “high” note – a hanging draws onsight of Wake and Bake 11d.

There are no words for this much cute and dirt.

There are no words for this much cute and dirt.

All in all – such a great trip!  We all tried hard and stretched ourselves out of our comfort zone.  (And congrats to fellow cragmama Rebekah for ticking her first 11c AND leading her first 5.12!)  We had so much fun on our last day that we ended up staying far later than we originally anticipated.  Ordinarily getting back at midnight would just be mildly unpleasant, but walking into a 55 degree house at midnight (thank you, broken heater!) was downright miserable.  But it was still worth it, especially since our climbing trips for the rest of the year will consist of whatever days we can squeeze in amidst the holiday chaos.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

 

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NRG: Flashin’ or Thrashin’

Sometimes on a climbing trip, you have a “day of reckoning,” where you try hard and it pays off with a send.  Other times, you flail your way through a weekend and come out without any new notches on your sending belt.  This past weekend for me was one of those weird in between weekends.  I was either flashing…or thrashing.  There was no middle ground.

The Honeymooner Ladders at Central Endless

The Honeymooner Ladders at Central Endless

Being that it was November and we FINALLY got those crisp, cool, fall conditions we’ve been waiting for all year, the only destination for us this weekend was Endless Wall.  Since I’d sent my project on our last trip (finally!), I had absolutely zero agenda for this trip, and went wherever the CragDaddy wanted to climb.  He and our third man Caleb wanted to try Harlequin 12b (ironically on the same wall as my nemesis-no-more J&T), so off we went down to the Honeymooner’s Ladders once again.  Both kids actually REALLY like going down these ladders, so despite the longer approach hike, Central Endless is one of their favorite destinations as well.

On Day 1 we strayed from our usual Endless Wall warm-up options and started out on Bonemaster Gear Fling 11c, which is also right next to the ladder.  I’d tackled this one only one other time when I was 17 weeks pregnant with Little Z, and I’d remembered it feeling insanely hard for the grade.  I figured it was probably due to my belly getting in the way of all those high steps…which I’m sure didn’t help.  However, this time around it STILL felt super hard.  Lots of frustratingly long reaches that were non-moves for my taller climbing partners, who touted it soft for the grade.  I was psyched to pull out a first go send though, and my weekend was off to a great start…

Girl beta...

Girl beta…

Then I got on Harlequin and my confidence got torn to shreds.  I’d been told there was a big move at the 1st bolt that can give shorter people fits…but heck yeah, all that “try hard” bouldering I’d been doing in the gym meant I had no trouble with it!  However…that bouldery sequence at the next bolt?  Ugh.  Hard in a completely not fun way for me.  The good feet were so low that I could get no umph from my legs to power up, and the next available feet were ridiculously high compared to the rest of my body position.  I eventually figured out the move.  But after trying the sequence 25+ times, I only managed to latch the ending hold twice.  The rest of the route went fairly well for me, but my odds down low were do dismal that I was less than inspired to keep working the line.

But as I said, it was CragDaddy’s weekend to choose, so we found ourselves back at the Ladders on Sunday morning.  Our warm-up strategy had worked out pretty well the previous day, so this time we hopped on the NEXT route over from the ladders, Double Feature 11d, whom my tall friends had warned felt a number grade harder than Bonemaster.  There were some hard moves for sure (and one of the coolest slab cruxes I’ve ever done!), but all in all, the difficulty seemed on a par with Bonemaster for me, minus the heinous reach issues.  I mean, it wouldn’t be the New without some long moves on it, but I was able to use crux beta that was almost exactly the same as everyone else, so it seems like the playing field for this line was more level than it’s next door neighbor.  That said, another flash made me psyched to see what else the day had in store.

Guy beta...

Guy beta…and congrats on the send CragDaddy!!!

Then I hopped on Harlequin again, just to see if maybe my crazy beta for the 2nd bolt would feel more doable fresh…wrong.  This time I couldn’t even pull the move.  So I decided to get on Sacrilege, denoted in the guidebook as 5.11 climbing to “the hardest 12b move you will ever encounter.”  I didn’t hold out much chance of doing “the move,” but was cautiously optimistic after having talked to a girl about my size the day before who had figured out a sequence that worked for her.  Besides, there was nothing else on the wall I really wanted to try, so I figured I had nothing to lose…

Nothing but a shiny bail biner at the crux, that is.  (So if you’re up there this weekend, it’s all yours if you can unlock that sequence!)  I bailed only after punishing myself on the face far longer than I’d anticipated.  Apparently neither Harlequin OR Sacrilege are in the cards for me right now.  But for all the thrashing I did, I’m still happy to walk away with some good flashes (well…technically one flash and a 2nd go send that felt like a flash since I’d forgotten pretty much everything about it from my preggo toprope episode.)

Tomorrow we are bound for the Red!  It will be interesting to see if our inconsistent performances at the New this fall can add up to anything noteworthy in the land of pump.  The forecast looks great, and we can’t wait!!!

Happy kiddos!

Happy kiddos!

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[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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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.

Related Images:

[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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