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Best Hidden Valley Sport Climbs 5.11 and Up

Time for the final round of Hidden Valley recommendations – this time for 5.11 and up.  And guess what – fall sending is almost here!  So if you are in the market for some good projects, this list might be a good place to start.  While the moderate routes can get quite crowded on good weather weekends, you’ll find that the queues drastically decrease as the grades increase.

In the steeps of Blues Brothers 12a (Photo Bryan Miller)

Roadkill 11a

GREAT “FIRST OF THE GRADE” CANDIDATES

ROADKILL 11a – A little pumpy, but straightforward, and you get a good rest once you pull the roof.
GRISTLE 12a – I know lots of folks who claim Gristle as a first 5.12….but I also know someone very near and dear to my heart that has dozens of 12’s under his belt that hasn’t been able to do it yet (not to call you out CragDaddy, just making a PSA.)  If you know how to heel/toe cam and have decent lock off strength, this one might be a good candidate for your first 12.  But if you are super tall and that heel/toe cam just doesn’t quite lock in, know that you’re in good company!
USDA 12a – If Gristle isn’t working for you, try out it’s neighbor to the right.  No moves as hard as the crux on Gristle, but the climbing as a whole is a little more sustained.  Multiple roofs, but multiple rests, especially if you aren’t super tall and can get “squatty.”
RAINY SATURDAY 12a – This one is going to be low-hanging fruit for the boulderers.  A powerful sequence right off the ground leads to 60+ feet of climbing that is no harder than 10a.  Two things worth noting –  the boulder problem will definitely feel harder if you are short, and there are a couple of chossy sections up high, so tread lightly.
FLEDGLING 12b – I know the guidebook gives it 12b, but if you know how to use your feet it’s a lot easier than some of the other 12a’s, certainly less powerful.  Plus it was a first ever 12 for a friend of mine.  And it’s an awesome route!
NEVER SEEN A MAN BEAT THE SNAKE BEFORE 12b – This climb is more weird than it is hard.  Once you figure out the beta it’s not that hard to put together.

Steve crimping through Meatballs 5.12a/b (Photo Bryan Miller)

CragDaddy cuttin’ loose on Mating Season 11d

MUST-DO’s

POCKET FULL OF RATTLEBUGS 11a Definitely the best of it’s grade, this route is in the runnings for best route at Hidden Valley.  Lots of variety – pockets, finger locks, power, commitment – if you climb 5.11 do NOT skip this route!
PRIME TIME PLAYERS 11b – This one never sees any action, but it should!  Mostly easier climbing, with a little power move in the middle and some thin moves at the finish.
GODZILLA 11b – This is listed in the guidebook as a route that “stays dry,” if you end at the first set of anchors, which keeps the route 11b (13a if you go out the roof.)  We went down to do it over a Memorial Day weekend after a week filled flooding rains and it was soaking wet.  Go figure.  To be fair however, routes we had never seen wet before were waterfalls that weekend, so my guess is that under normal rain circumstances, it would probably be fine.  That said, I’ve never done it, but I know plenty who have and say it’s as good as it looks!
GREAT WHITE 11b/c – This is Oregon Trail 10c’s older brother.  Pumpy goodness, with a crux that is not-so-obvious from the ground, but you’ll know it when you’re in it.
CHERRY CORDULES 11c – We discovered this hidden gem while working Death by Chocolate 12d.  It’s a great warm-up for harder climbs, and a super fun route in its own right.  Fair warning the opening moves are a little weird, and while it’s not required, a little gear to supplement to the ledge might not be a bad idea.
KESTREL 11c – This route features super fun technical face climbing.  If you are looking to do some of the harder routes on the wall, this one is a better warm-up than THIN SHELLS 10d, despite the grade difference.  While the moves are harder, the holds are a little less tweaky.
MATING SEASON 11b OR 11d – Looking for a short, techy 11b with most of the business at the bottom?  Stop at the rainy day anchors.  Want to add a side of pump to your 5.11?  Keep going out the roof to the top of the cliff.  Note: be careful in the roof as there is some friable rock.  My first send attempt was foiled by a broken hold.

Gristle 12a

CragDaddy on USDA 12a

FLAVORED WITH MEAT 12a – If you like thin face climbing, this one was made for you!  Plus, it’s always fun to do the “cover route” on a guidebook.
BLUES BROTHERS 12a – The best 12a at Hidden Valley?  Just may be!  Definitely the most varied – little bit of crack climbing, little bit of steep jug hauling, little bit of crimpy face climbing culminating with a committing mantel.  It all adds up to a lot of fun!
YABUISHA 12a – This one is pretty hard for the grade – rumor has it a jug undercling broke at the finish.  In my opinion that heartbreak finish bumps this one up a letter.  But regardless of grade, it’s technical face climbing at it’s absolute finest!  Do it!!!
MEATBALLS 5.12a/b – Short but sweet little face climb.  Note: If climbing with small kids, this route starts up on a ledge that you probably wouldn’t want the whole family to join you on, so not a great choice if you don’t have extra adults for kid-watching back-up on the ground.
CAPTAIN FUK 12a – One of two awesome 12’s on the Right Side’s Ship Rock area.  If you are into burly gym routes, this is the one you should choose, though there will still be enough thin (and sharp!) face climbing to make you earn it!
BLACK BEARD 12b – The other of Ship Rock’s treasures.  This one is all about technique and endurance.  No hard moves for the grade….but can you hang on til the finish?
DDT 12b – Another technical testpiece on the Falcon Wall, this one will require a little bit of power with your technique.  Highly recommended!

Death by Chocolate 12d

CONEHEADS #2 12c – Awesome, full-value line.  Requires some power and finesse, as well as a cool head at the finish.  FYI the fall at the anchors is big but totally clean – ask me how I know 😉  More on that one here.  Worth noting is that there is a just as good, but slightly easier link-up by climbing the initial crack of Coneheads #2, then heading right to the upper face of Coneheads #1, finishing on the right side of the conehead feature.  More on that one here.
DEATH BY CHOCOLATE 12d – Though not my hardest send on paper, this one might be my proudest.  It’s a gorgeous line that stays dry in a downpour and never has any traffic.  Short, technical and powerful, I won’t recount the entire saga here (but it’s here if you want it.)  But I will say this – you might wanna save it for good conditions!

Looking for 5.13’s and harder?  There’s plenty to do there, but neither CragDaddy nor myself have a ton of experience at that level.  I will say though, that both of our first 13’s were sent at Hidden Valley – RODENT’S LAMENT 13b for me, and SPURS SLAB 13a for CragDaddy.  The former is a one move wonder (for a more detailed look at that climb, check out this post), and the latter involves a slab dyno, then a ledge and a finish up the ever popular Spurs 10c.  My guess is that both of them would be considered good first of the grade candidates for others as well.

There are a few notable routes that get a lot of stars but we haven’t tried yet.  Hopefully we’ll get a chance to get on them soon, and when we do, I’ll be sure to update this post.  (If you’ve tried ’em, please let me know how they are!)

OPOSSUM TONGUES IN ASPIC 12c
THE CARNIVORE 12d
BOTULISM 13a
RIVETED JEANS 13b

But until then, you should have plenty to keep you busy from this list!  Also, don’t miss this other posts in this series.

CRAG PROFILES:  Hidden VALLEY
Best Sport Climbs at Hidden Valley – 5.10 and Under

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Best Sport Climbs Hidden Valley – 5.10 and Under

Now that you’ve got the basic crag beta down for Hidden Valley, it’s time to decide what routes you want to try.  The best part about Hidden Valley (aside from that 4000′ elevation!) is the wide variety of grades spread all around the cliff.  This post will zero in on the lower grades – those of you looking for 5.11 and up recommendations will have to wait!  But for now, here’s plenty to get started on.

GREAT FOR NEW LEADERS

STALLION 5.5 –  Both of my children like this one!
BUTT FACE 5.6
 – Easy slabbin’ with plenty of bolts.
LEISURE SUIT 5.8 – Don’t let the guidebook’s comment about short folks deter you.  My son did all the moves when he was 8ish, and while he’s strong boy, he’s not a climbing prodigy 😉
CHICKEN SOUP 5.8+ – A little technical, but short, and you’re on your feet the whole time, so pump isn’t a factor.

Big C rockin’ a Gatorade Mustache on Pony 5.8

Little Z working her way up Stallion 5.5

BREAKING INTO 5.10s

TIDY BOWL 10a – Once you pull the initial roof (don’t forget to stem!) it’s all about footwork.  Slow and steady wins the race.  Stick clip recommended.
SNAKE SKIN 10b
– If you want to avoid the roof pull, you can always end early and clip the anchors for VIPER LOGIC 10d

MUST-DO ROUTES

Butt Crack 5.7+ – This is my son’s favorite route…although I think the name might have just as much to do with his enjoyment as the actual climbing.  That said, the climbing is stellar also!  Perfect for beginners to practice some layback technique and trusting their feet!  Go right at the last bolt for a slightly harder finish.
PONY 5.8 – Tall line with lots of variety and the views at the top are some of the best in the Valley!
NO COKE, PEPSI 5.9+  – This one, along with it’s next door neighbor FARLEY 5.9 get constant traffic on good weather weekends, so get there early if you don’t want to have to wait.  Personally, I think the former is better than the latter, but they are both good.  If your crack technique is not super solid, definitely stick clip Farley’s first bolt.
TAINT MEAT 5.9+ – This one will be super fun if you climb harder than 5.9.  If 5.9 is your limit, it’s gonna feel hard and scary.
OREGON TRAIL 10c – Don’t pass this one by, even if the opening dihedral is a little damp.  You’ll have plenty of time to chalk up before the steep, pumpy goodness begins.
SPURS 10c – Bring a long stick clip or some gear for the opening 20 feet of crack climbing.  Get it all back on the bushy ledge, then tackle the monstrously steep for the grade jug haul.  Note: Back cleaning the first draw after the ledge will decrease drag tremendously.
THIN SHELLS 10d – Technical face climbing at it’s finest, though some of the holds are a little tweaky if you are looking to warm-up on it.
POWDER 10d – Pony’s harder next door neighbor.  Cryptic crux up high that will feel easier in crisp conditions!

Big C tackling the Butt Crack 5.7+ (cue Beavis and Butthead laugh)

WORTH NOTING

All of the routes I’ve recommended are found on the Left Side of the cliff.  Our family hasn’t ventured over to the Right Side yet, but I’ll be sure to update this post when we do.  We also haven’t done much on the Ginseng Wall or Indian Shelter – hoping to remedy that soon.  From looking at the guidebook, it appears that there are a good many lines that should perhaps be included in this list.  If you know of one – please let me know!

What’s YOUR FAVORITE moderate line at Hidden Valley?

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NRG Sport Climbing Superlatives – 5.12 and Up

Thunderstruck 12b Photo: Dan Brayack

If 5.11 is where things really start to get good at the New, then 5.12 land is nothing short of heaven.  Whether you’re looking for one-move wonders or sandbagged classics, spooky slab or straight up roof thuggin’, the New has more than a few 5.12’s for you!

GOOD “FIRST OF THE GRADE” CANDIDATES

LOW BROW 12a (Meadow) – First NRG 5.12 for both CragDaddy and me.  It is a slab, which not everyone likes, but if you have good footwork it shouldn’t be too bad.  Great rests + lower angle means there is not a big pump factor, although there’s a move at the chains that will keep you honest.
FIRED FOR SANDBAGGING 12a (Bubba City) – Seems like everyone migrates away from Bubba City once they graduate past 5.10, but there are several harder gems if you are willing to look!  This one features one very well-protected hard move down below, the rest is no harder than 11a.  Work the opening sequence, then pull the rope and fire for the send!
HOMERECTUS 12a (Endless) – This route can either be a super hard 11b, or a pretty easy 12a.  Keeping the line at 11b requires a long but easy traverse at the 8th bolt to avoid pulling a bulge.  Going direct here will make it 12a, and if you aren’t blessed with a giant ape index, the 12a move will likely feel only slightly harder than the 11b crux down low.  A great way to get experience both ways is to climb the 11b way, then try out the 12 moves on the lower, then pull the rope and go for the 12 send.
STARRY 12a (Meadow, Third Buttress) – Loooong route, but the first 2/3 are no harder than 10a. Be on the lookout for the lay down rest!
MINISTRY 12b (Butcher’s Branch) – Crux is pretty thin, but short-lived.  The majority of the route is 5.10, with a great rest before the business at the finish.

First big move on Lost Souls 12a

While I don’t have a ton of experience at the harder grades here at the New (more on that below), the following were my firsts of the grade here, so they are probably good entry level routes.
GREEN ENVY 12c (Beauty)
BOSNIAN VACATION 12d (Fern)
THE RUCHERT MOTION 13a (Beauty)

MUST DO’S

NEW WORLD ORDER 12a (Endless) – Full value climbing, with a lot of variety!
PREPARATION H 12a (Kaymoor) – Delicate arete climbing that, in my opinion, deserves more action than it’s neighbor around the corner, Pockets of Resistance.
LOST SOULS 12a (Butcher’s Branch) – I couldn’t decide whether or not to put this one in the above category….it’s giant, monkey swinging moves definitely cater to gym rats looking to bag their first 12, but if you’re not a great “gym climber” you’ll probably find the opposite – that was CragDaddy’s and my experience.  But regardless whether you think it’s hard or soft, it’s still a fantastic rock climb that is worth waiting in line for!
FREAKY STYLEE 12a (Endless) – Technical face to a big-whipper potential crux move at the top.
HELLBOUND FOR GLORY 12a (Endless) – FA Doug Cosby likes to say that this one was once known as “most flashable 12” in the gorge.  That statement might be a bit of a sandbag, but it’s a great route for sure – once you get past the awkward start, that is.
RECKLESS ABANDON 12a (Summersville) – The position out over the water is spectacular!
BLACKHAPPY 12b (Endless) – Everything you could want out of rock climb – thin, technical crux, big moves to big holds, and a spicy (but clean) runout to the chains.  Yee-haw!
MODERN PRIMITIVE 12b (Endless) – Due to it’s orientation, stays in the shade til late in the day, unlike the rest of Endless Wall. Good candidate when the rest of Endless is too hot.
LE FUTURISTE 12b (Endless) – The “optional but recommended” dyno mentioned in the guidebook is not optional for me…but I can see why it’s recommended regardless!

Mid-crux on Le Futuriste 12b Photo: Javier Licon

BIG FAT SANDBAGS

‘Nuff said.  Transport these routes to another crag and they would probably receive at least another letter grade. These are all amazing.  And also amazingly hard for the grade.

JESUS AND TEQUILA 12b (Endless) – This one has sentimental value for me, see here for more.
THUNDERSTRUCK 12b (White Wall)
HARLEQUIN 12b (Endless)
THIEVES IN THE TEMPLE 12b (Fern)
CHUNKY MONKEY 12b (Beauty)

ROUTES FOR THE TALL NOT SMALL

I don’t like the term “height-dependent,” because I don’t want to limit what we small folk are capable of.  However, unless you’re at least 5’10”, don’t expect these to feel the grade the guidebook gives it.

STRETCH ARMSTRONG 12a (Bridge) – After trying this several times off and on over the years, I finally sent  the day after sending my first and so far only NRG 13.  Honestly the crux of this felt almost as hard for me!  CragDaddy, however, found some amazing beta that almost turned this line into a one move wonder.
FLY GIRLS 12a (Fern) – Also a great candidate for a first of the grade if you can make the reach.  If you can’t, you’re campusing on crimps.
TECHMAN 12c (Endless) – There are some intermediates in the crux, albeit pretty terrible ones, but if you can’t reach a key foothold at the end of the traverse, the exit move of the crux will be pretty low percentage, and will quickly turn this tweaker into “hard in a not fun way.”
MACAULEY’S IRISH STOUT 12b (Meadow, The Other Place) – Most dyno at the crux, but I’ve seen it go static…unfortunately the static beta is just as reachy.

CragDaddy on Modern Primitive 12b

If you are sub par when it comes to height, don’t get discouraged.  Most routes in your grade range can still go down for you at the New, provided you are willing to get creative and try harder than you think you should have to at times.  That said, the following are great options for smaller people, either because the typical beta involves a compact body position that caters to a smaller frame, or because of multiple intermediate options for hands and feet.

ROUTES THAT ARE SWEET FOR THE SHORT

PSYCHOWRANGLER 12a (Cottontop) – Be ready for a queue on a weekend day.
BULLET THE NEW SKY 12b (Endless) – If you can get your feet up on small holds, this route will feel LESS reachy to you than it will for your taller counterparts!
POCKETS OF RESISTANCE 12a (Kaymoor) – Yes that last move is big, but if you can get your feet high early you’ll be able to use the undercling better.
NARCISSUS 12a (Summersville) – Plenty of intermediates and multiple ways to go at the crux.
GIFT OF GRACE 12b (Endless) -Be super careful clipping the 3rd bolt.  Safest way to do it is to sling it really long so you can clip early.  Your ethics may vary.
JUST SEND IT 13b (Fern) – I’ve only been on this route once, and it definitely shut me down…but certainly not because of height!

Me going “full blowfish” on Ministry 12b

AVOID THE CROWDS

As mentioned in the 5.11 post, none of the “must-do” lines listed are a secret.  If you’ve done most the classics, or are looking for a way to avoid the queue, here’s your list.  These routes are all good solid rock climbs, and most rarely have any takers.

AUDIOPHERING 12a (Cottontop) – A little weird in places, but definitely worth doing.
POWERFUL OPPOSITION 12a (Bubba City) – Prepare to get funky on this one.
MICHELIN MAN Variation 12b (Bubba City) – Fabulous steep jug hauling to a delicate, reachy traverse.  There’s an 11d version that I’ve never done with a different finish, that’s probably good too?
FINE MOTOR CONTROL 12a (Endless) – Power moves down low, classic Endless face up high.
CONTROL 12a (Butcher’s Branch) – Powerful little boulder problem traverse to better holds and a giant sit-down ledge, followed by more moderate climbing.
FANTASY FACE 12a (Endless) – If Aesthetica and Blackhappy are at Rush Hour, take this back road of technical slab fun.
KAOS 12c (Butcher’s Branch) – Much harder neighbor to the aforementioned Control.
THE STRATEGEM 12a (Bridge) – Did you know there were sport climbs at Bridge Buttress?  Most other people don’t either.  Check out this one, TEAM MACHINE 12a, and STRETCH ARMSTRONG 12a (described earlier) for a sweet bolted trifecta.
UNBROKEN CHAIN 12a – The view is spectacular and the approach can’t be beat.  Plus you’ll never run into anyone else…but bring your A-game because this thing is hard as nails.
WALL DRUG 12c and it’s next door neighbor BOSNIAN VACATION 12d (Fern) – A little sharp, a little tweaky, but cool movement, great views, and I’ve never seen anyone else on them but us!

Shaking out on New World Order 12a

BOMBS

While there are very few true NRG “black holes” at this grade (you know, routes that are so bad they take stars away from other neighboring routes), there’s one that comes close.  One of these is LET THE WIND BLOW 12a, found on the right side of Bridge Buttress.  There are a few reasons why folks end up on this line.  It can be toproped from an awesome full value hand crack – HIGH TIMES 10c, and it stays dry in a downpour.  Don’t waste your time on it though – it’s overchalked, polished, and the holds are sharp and tweaky.

WORTH NOTING:

As opposed to a pretty even spread throughout the grade range in prior posts of this “best of” series (5.10 and under here, and 5.11’s here), you might notice that my 5.12 recommendations are a little bottom heavy.  As in, mostly in the 12a and 12b range. Looking at my tick list, the reason for this is pretty obvious.  Counting only routes I’ve sent at the New – 15 are 12a, 7 are 12b…and then I have one each of 12c, 12d, and 13a.  I’m slowly but surely working to rectify this imbalance, but for now the 12+ and higher recommendations will be grossly underrespresented.  In the mean time though, you’ve got plenty to keep you busy from this list!

CragDaddy sticking the dyno on MacCauley’s Irish Stout 12b

Oh and one more thing.  The following is a list of routes that probably should be on this list but I can’t personally recommend because I’ve never touched them.  A few of them may or may not also be on the list of potential fall projects (hence the obvious technical face climbing slant!)

PUDD’s PRETTY DRESS 12d (Endless)
SLASH AND BURN 12d (Kaymoor)
LIBERTINE 12d (Endless)
STEALTH AND MAGIC 12d (Endless)
BLACK RIDER, aka POCKET ROUTE 13a (Endless)
QUINSANA PLUS 13a (Endless)

If anybody else has any recommendations for hard 12’s and easier 13’s, especially ones that hypothetically might be a good fit for a 5’5″ frame, please let me know in the comments!

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NRG Sport Climbing Superlatives – 5.11

Mutiny 11d…the water makes for a big crowd deterrent! Photo: Dan Brayack

Ah, 5.11.  While the New has some of the best climbing on the planet at any grade, 5.11 is where it really starts to get good.  Whether you are looking to bag your first one, rack up a list of classics, or avoid crowds, look no further, because this post can help.

GOOD “FIRST OF THE GRADE” CANDIDATES

WILD SEED 11a (Fern) – The business section of this one is about as gym climb-y as you’re gonna get at the New.  The opening slab moves will keep you honest if you are a true gym rat, but are probably only 5.9 or so.
DELIRIUM TREMORS 11a (Bubba City) – One move wonder that is short but sweet – if all else fails and you can’t do the move, use the tree behind you to avoid having to leave a biner.
MR. CUTE 11a (3rd Buttress, Meadow) – The opening traverse will leave you scratching your head thinking, “Is this really right?!?” but by the time you get to the top, all you’ll be thinking about is pump management.  No 11 moves, just pumpy.
EURONATION 11c (Endless) – Stem off the tree to reach the 1st bolt (stick clip recommended) for a fantastic, rarely traveled 5.10 warm-up.  Eliminate the tree and all you’ve got standing in your way of claiming 11c is a crimpy V3 boulder problem.
SLAB-O-MEAT 11d (Endless) – One move wonder down low makes this one a great option for those looking for a first 11d.  Note:  The crux is well-protected, but after the business you’ll launch into a long slab with not a lot of bolts on it – it might feel a little heady, but there are no moves harder than 10-.

CragDaddy on the pumpy traverse of Flash Point 11d

MUST DO’s

LEGACY 11a (Endless) – Might be the best of the grade in the whole gorge.
SATISFACTION GUARANTEED 11a (Summersville) – The other contender for best of the grade in the whole gorge.
MASUKO 11a (Whipoorwhil) – Spectacular climbing with a spectacular view!
CROSS-EYED AND BLIND 11a (1st Buttress Meadow)  This one wants to Pump. You up. (You have to say it in a Schwarzenager voice.)
DISCOMBOBULATED 11b (Endless) – Right beside Legacy.  Knock them both out and you’ll have had a great day!  (If you’re a shortie climbing with tall folks, be ready to be annoyed with their beta around the 2nd or 3rd bolt.)
FLAMING PELLETS 11b (The Other Place) – Both tech and pump for your climbing pleasure
QTIP 11b (Cottontop) – Technical face climbing, with the right amount of weird to be fun.
COFFINDAFFERS DREAM 11b (3rd Buttress, Meadow) – Textbook NRG lockoffs all the way up this super fun face.
STIM-O-STAM 11c (Endless) – Burly boulder problem to techy pocket crux, with a grand slab-with-a-view finale!
S’MORE ENERGY 11c (Endless) – You’ll deserve a campfire treat after ticking this one!
AESTHETICA 11c (Endless) – Worth the hike, even if this is the only route you get on in the area.  Multiple options for climbers of different heights, but you’re everybody’s gonna have to reach and try hard on this one.

Crux clip on Scenic Adult 11c – make your friend hang your draws for you 😉

SANCHO BELIGE 11c (Kaymoor) – In good conditions you will love these slopers…in the summer, not so much.
SCENIC ADULT 11c (Kaymoor) – Don’t let the crazy beta pic in the guidebook talk you out of this one, you don’t have to do it that way.  But you do have to bring your lead head with you.
DISTURBANCE 11d (Beauty) – Can you get your foot at your face and launch?  If so, you’ll love this one.
FLASH POINT 11d (Endless) – My fave of this grade in the entire NRG.  3 cruxes – each gets progressively easier if you’re tall, progressively harder if you’re short.  Leisurely start, aggro in the middle, zen at the finish.  Brilliant piece of stone!
MENSA 11d (Beauty) – As the name implies, this one is a thinker that requires a little creativity.
OUT OF THE BAG 11d (Kaymoor) – Best route on a wall filled with fabulous rock climbs.
UNDER THE MILKY WAY 11d (Summersville) – You can’t beat the position on this one, with a finish high up over the lake.
TOXIC HUECO 11d (Lower Meadow) – Full disclosure, I’ve never actually touched this one, but everyone I know who’s touched it gives it about a million stars..  At one point I was saving it for a flash attempt, and realized recently I’d forgotten about it!  Should probably add to the fall bucket list!

Initial roof on Bourbon Sauce 11d

5.11s LESS TRAVELED

The one drawback to all of these fabulous 5.11s the NRG has to offer is that there are a heckuva lot of other people who want to climb them too.  So if you are looking to get away from the crowds, check the following ones out.  They aren’t quite as good as the ones listed above, but they are still darn good rock climbs, but won’t draw the crowds the way the others do.

MUCKRAKER 11a (Endless) – It’s right by the Honeymooner Ladders, so you’d think it’d get more action than it does.
OH IT’S YOU BOB 11b (Kaymoor) – Beware a couple of mega reaches on this sucker if you aren’t tall!
MOON CHILD POSSE 11c (Kaymoor) – Usually the only folks getting on this one are taking a quick warm-up lap before hopping on the White Wall 12’s.  This one is shady, tall, and a lot of fun!
COTTON THE ACT 11d (Cottontop)  Most folks never venture this far down the cliff, but this line is a great option for when Cottontop elevates to circus status on a Sunday afternoon.
HOT AND BOTHERED 11d (Summersville) – Right there living in the shadows of MILKY WAY lurks this beauty.  The climbing is just as good, although the position is not.  (Note: Another great neighboring 11 is MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE 11c, and I’ve heard FLIRTIN WITH E 11d is great too, though I’ve never been on it.
BOURBON SAUCE 11d (Kaymoor) – While everyone else is queued up for Sancho Belige 11c and Lost Souls 12a, this unassuming line is usually empty.  I don’t know why though, because it’s so good!
MUTINY 11d (Summersville) – Unlike the previous route, I DO know why this one never has a line – it’s completley off by itself away from all the other walls.  To reach it, turn right towards the water shortly after entering the woods post stream crossing.  You’ll scramble down to a peaceful little cove, where this proud line will be waiting.  Make sure to catch it in low water – late fall through early spring, or else your belayer will need some floaties!

Hot and Bothered 11d Photo: Dan Brayack

GOOD FOR KID-CRUSHERS

As mentioned in my NRG Crag Profile, the New is notoriously reachy.  There is a reason why all the strong climbing team kids flock to the Red (and it’s not because the rock is better there!!!)  However, there are a few diamonds in the rough.  While at 5’5″ I am by no means a giant, I’ve still got about a foot over your average 10 year old, so just because a route is doable for me doesn’t mean it’s a great fit for a kid, even a super strong one that likes to dyno.  Thankfully, the McDermott family has several small crushers at their house, and they were gracious enough to recommend some routes that cater to those under 5 feet tall.  So if you are a pint-sized beast looking for 5.11s, check out SATISFACTION GUARANTEED 11a, Q-TIP 11b, and UNDER THE MILKY WAY 11d, all listed as classics above, ironically all out at Summersville.  Also check out NO WAY JOSE 11b – I didn’t list it above because I’ve never been on it, but I’ve heard good things about it, and it also is apparently short-person friendly.  You can look forward to more input from the McDermotts on hard kid-friendly routes as this series progresses!

So there ya have it for 5.11s…now it’s your turn – if 5.11 is your jam, what are the absolute must-do’s?!?

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An Addendum to the Spring Sum-Up

Entering the crux

When I wrote a re-cap of my spring climbing season 2 weeks ago, it was 95 degrees, and jungle status humidity.  Today feels similar.  But this past Saturday brought a rare respite from both heat and humidity.  And I don’t mean an “it was a few degrees cooler” kinda thing.  I’m talking, lows in the 50’s, high’s in the 70’s, and 30-40% humidity.  Such a shocking departure from the norm that it seemed almost providential that CragDaddy and I rearrange our schedules to be back at the New on Saturday – because by Sunday it was going to be summer again!  

That said, all the hectic-ness of Friday afternoon was well worth it on Saturday night when we drove back with a pair of sends in our pocket.  After a quick warm-up on Workman’s Comp 10d that morning, we went straight to the project, Bosnian Vacation 12d.  The one that I came up juuuust short on at the exit move of the crux a few weeks ago…and then thankfully stopped juuuust short of hitting the tree.  Although we initially got on it a few weeks ago because it was literally the only dry route we could find, we stuck with it because it’s actually pretty awesome. 

Mark Paulson sums it up pretty well on Mountain Project“Bosnian Vacation is a smorgasbord of NRG features and styles, cramming just about every New River trope into a seemingly compact 90′.  A V4 power problem right off the deck?  Check.  An immediate transition to a laughably thin technical crux on the tiniest of crimps? Check.  A huge horizontal where you can get it all back?  A requisite section of choss? Reachy 5.11 jug hauling? Crazy, exposed dihedral moves? A looong easy romp to the chains that protects well with anything from a blue to orange TCU?  Multiple checks.  Not a classic, but undeniably fun.”  

This cutie got to be an only child for the weekend!

Worth noting is that a VERY key part of my crux beta involved a hollow pinch that doesn’t seem long for this world.  CragDaddy felt pretty sure he would rip it off if he used it, and he was able to avoid it entirely, but with my (lack of) reach, not using it was not an option for me.  In fact, I used it multiple times – first as a right hand undercling as I’m stepping my feet through, then as a left hand undercling intermediate to help me stretch to a right hand sidepull.  So if you get on this route and find you need to use this hold, tread lightly!

Also worth noting is that the exit move out of the crux is a little scary, as implied earlier.  My beta involves cranking off a so-extended-my-shoulder-isn’t-engaged left hand sloping dish and a terrible right foot smear to a hero jug flake for my right hand.  Twice a few weeks ago that right foot slipped, swinging me closer than I wanted to be to a good-sized tree.  With an aware climber and heads up belayer, it’s probably fine – just don’t jump “out!”  The good news is that better conditions meant better friction, which meant significantly better contact strength on that sloping dish, and on Saturday I was able to stay a lot tighter to the wall for that committing move.  (FYI CragDaddy’s taller beta enabled him to get to the good flake before having to smear on the bad foot, so by the time he got into “pendulum territory,” the moves weren’t as committing.  Your mileage may vary, so just be aware!)

CragDaddy exiting the crux on a TR burn a few weeks ago.

After the crux is a big ledge traverse – endure the slightly awkward feet and the reward is a rest where you can get it all back before tackling the 5.11 face.  The face is slightly overhanging – the moves are big, but so are the holds!  Once you reach the 60 ft mark or so, the route rolls over into a wildly exposed dihedral (but first a no hands rest with a great view of the river!)  The dihedral to the top is probably no harder than 10-.  You’ll probably want some gear though – a blue Trango flex cam/.3 BD is easy to place from a pedestal under the final roof.  Make sure you sling it long.  Even with the gear you’ll probably want to avoid falling while pulling the roof.  

After hanging the draws and rehearsing some of the harder moves multiple times, I was feeling great about every move but the last deadpoint on the 5.11 face – it’s a big windmill move for me, and though I don’t think I’ve ever fallen on it, it always feels desperate and lower percentage than I want it to be.  After his run, CragDaddy was feeling great about all but the very first move off the ground – which he had yet to be able to do even once.  

But after a quick lunch break and some snuggle time with the little one (the big one was away at church camp this weekend!), we both pulled the rope and sent!  Not without some excitement though – I was blinded by the sun starting up the face, and my foot almost popped while heading to the final no hands rest.  CragDaddy probably tried the starting move an additional 30+ times…then finally made it and just kept right on going up for the send (also amidst an almost fall mid-crux and a bout of sun blindness towards the top.)  The moral of his story is to never stop fighting – he only ever made that move once, but when he did he made it count! 

Burly start

Afterwards we still had some time left in our day, so I figured I’d give Just Send It 13b a try – we were there, the route was there, and multiple people had recommended it to me as a potential longer term project.  Maybe it was the previously exhausted forearms talking, but that thing is hard as nails!  I wasn’t expecting to be able to do all the moves after just one lap of course…but I thought I would at least be able to visualize the harder sequences!  I did fine until the double dihedral, when confusion and disorientation set in for a few bolts.  I’m not going to write it off for good, but I’m not itching to get back any time soon.  (Also all praise to the mighty Trango Beta Stick for getting me to the top!) 

And now I think I can FINALLY say “That’s a wrap!” on spring climbing.  Wanna know a secret?  I’m getting an SUP for my birthday (which is in August but we’re getting it early so we can use it all summer!)  So be on the lookout for some upcoming paddling posts!  

 

 

 

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Spring Sum-up: Because Summer is Already Here

A little over a month ago, I wrote a “here’s where things stand midway through spring” post.  After enduring 90 degree temps in Kentucky over Memorial Day weekend, I’d say it’s time to officially close out the chapter on Spring 2019.  Despite being riddled with rain seemingly weekend after weekend, I actually had a pretty successful season.  Although the heat came way before I was ready to be done climbing hard,  I’m currently finishing up this post on the back porch of my in-law’s beach house overlooking the ocean, so life isn’t too terrible right now!  Here’s some highlights from the past month or so…

Here Comes the Rain 12b, Photo by Bryan Miller

HERE COMES THE RAIN 12b – Last time I mentioned this I was only 4 same day tries in.  Since this one is a 2hr drive and roadside approach from my house, the kids and I were able to sneak away for a couple of mid-week day trips.  On the first of those, I got in 2 beta burns before the rain ended our day early.  I figured out some alternate beta for the finish, but couldn’t decide which option was easiest/better, and I still hadn’t managed to actually clip the last bolt without grabbing a draw.  Then the next week we had a beautifully cool spring morning…but I hiked in only to discover that there was a waterfall running perilously close to my line.  The good news is that the rock that was dry felt amazingly crisp.  The bad news was that avoiding the handful of wet holds made a couple of sections a bit harder.  More good news was that the waterfall answered my “which finishing beta” question for me , and that a double draw on the last bolt enabled me to find a fairly okay clipping stance using a soaking wet but surprisingly secure toe hook.  

Ironically though, all of my clipping rehearsal was for naught, because when I got up there on the sending go, I couldn’t get into that position again.  I tried to clip, dropped the rope, and decided to keep climbing.  A couple of moves later I tried again, again no dice, and I barely saved my body from a big barn door.   I only had 3 more hard moves left and I was about 80% sure I could do them, but the more I hung out trying to clip this bolt, the faster that percentage was being depleted.  If this route was anything but a slab, I probably would have skipped the bolt in question and been at the top by now.  I decided to smear my feet up a little higher, and if I still couldn’t get it clipped I was gonna keep going. I held my breath as I tiptoed up.  The unclipped bolt was now at my knees, but the undercling I was on felt better with the higher feet, and I managed to get the rope in.  A few moves later I was at the top – a little more epic than anticipated, but hey it’s done! 

GREEN ENVY 12c – This milestone deserved it’s own post, so rather than rehash all of it, you can just go here if you missed the play by play! 

Funky footwork on Bosnian Vacation 12d

KID FREE WEEKEND – Believe it or not, prior to earlier this month, CragDaddy and I hadn’t had a kid-free weekend at the New River Gorge since 2009 – before we had any kids to bring!!!!!  True to form, our master plans of efficient and flawless crag-hopping didn’t exactly pan out.  Temps were in the high 80’s with jungle level humidity, and the 2 inches of rain in the previous 18 hours made for some of the wettest conditions I’d ever seen.  But all that aside, we managed to have a fabulous time – AND we found a new project for the fall!  

BOSNIAN VACATION 12d – I’d be remiss if I failed to admit that I’m SLIGHTLY disappointed that this one is still a project.  On the one hand, I certainly wan’t EXPECTING to send 12d in a weekend, especially a weekend with the forecast we had.  Our intentions were to just have fun project shopping  for fall, not really trying to send anything.  But after doing all the moves on it Day 1, and allowing myself to get sucked back into a second round the next day, it did sting a little to come up half an inch short on the final move of the crux at weekend’s end.  It also stung to graze my back against the wall during the crux fall, but probably not as much as it would have stung to slam into the tree, which was the other option.  That said, I’m hoping that my efforts will painlessly pay off this fall!

Big C crushing Rorschach Ink Blots 5.8+

MEMORIAL DAY AT THE RED:  Our spring season “grand finale” was a little anti-climactic.  Conditions were more reminiscent of what we’d expect in late July rather than end of May.  It didn’t stop us from trying hard, but it DID stop my sending streak…unless you count warm-ups, and even those weren’t necessarily a sure thing!  The silver lining of the weekend was that CragDaddy not only put down Hippocrite 12a, but managed to do so before lunch on the last day, which enabled us to get back early enough for me to get a head start packing for our next day’s adventure – 4 days at the aforementioned beach house.  

It’s times like these that I’m really thankful to live where we do, having both the mountains and the coast close enough to visit on a whim.  And while I’m certain we’ll get our fair share of climbing adventures in over the summer, my guess is that we’ll probably spend just as much time in the water as we do on the rock.  Tis the season for pools, kayaks, and trompin’ in the creek!  

My favorite partners in climb

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Spring Sum-up: Because Summer is Already Here

A little over a month ago, I wrote a “here’s where things stand midway through spring” post.  After enduring 90 degree temps in Kentucky over Memorial Day weekend, I’d say it’s time to officially close out the chapter on Spring 2019.  Despite being riddled with rain seemingly weekend after weekend, I actually had a pretty successful season.  Although the heat came way before I was ready to be done climbing hard,  I’m currently finishing up this post on the back porch of my in-law’s beach house overlooking the ocean, so life isn’t too terrible right now!  Here’s some highlights from the past month or so…

Here Comes the Rain 12b, Photo by Bryan Miller

HERE COMES THE RAIN 12b – Last time I mentioned this I was only 4 same day tries in.  Since this one is a 2hr drive and roadside approach from my house, the kids and I were able to sneak away for a couple of mid-week day trips.  On the first of those, I got in 2 beta burns before the rain ended our day early.  I figured out some alternate beta for the finish, but couldn’t decide which option was easiest/better, and I still hadn’t managed to actually clip the last bolt without grabbing a draw.  Then the next week we had a beautifully cool spring morning…but I hiked in only to discover that there was a waterfall running perilously close to my line.  The good news is that the rock that was dry felt amazingly crisp.  The bad news was that avoiding the handful of wet holds made a couple of sections a bit harder.  More good news was that the waterfall answered my “which finishing beta” question for me , and that a double draw on the last bolt enabled me to find a fairly okay clipping stance using a soaking wet but surprisingly secure toe hook.  

Ironically though, all of my clipping rehearsal was for naught, because when I got up there on the sending go, I couldn’t get into that position again.  I tried to clip, dropped the rope, and decided to keep climbing.  A couple of moves later I tried again, again no dice, and I barely saved my body from a big barn door.   I only had 3 more hard moves left and I was about 80% sure I could do them, but the more I hung out trying to clip this bolt, the faster that percentage was being depleted.  If this route was anything but a slab, I probably would have skipped the bolt in question and been at the top by now.  I decided to smear my feet up a little higher, and if I still couldn’t get it clipped I was gonna keep going. I held my breath as I tiptoed up.  The unclipped bolt was now at my knees, but the undercling I was on felt better with the higher feet, and I managed to get the rope in.  A few moves later I was at the top – a little more epic than anticipated, but hey it’s done! 

GREEN ENVY 12c – This milestone deserved it’s own post, so rather than rehash all of it, you can just go here if you missed the play by play! 

Funky footwork on Bosnian Vacation 12d

KID FREE WEEKEND – Believe it or not, prior to earlier this month, CragDaddy and I hadn’t had a kid-free weekend at the New River Gorge since 2009 – before we had any kids to bring!!!!!  True to form, our master plans of efficient and flawless crag-hopping didn’t exactly pan out.  Temps were in the high 80’s with jungle level humidity, and the 2 inches of rain in the previous 18 hours made for some of the wettest conditions I’d ever seen.  But all that aside, we managed to have a fabulous time – AND we found a new project for the fall!  

BOSNIAN VACATION 12d – I’d be remiss if I failed to admit that I’m SLIGHTLY disappointed that this one is still a project.  On the one hand, I certainly wan’t EXPECTING to send 12d in a weekend, especially a weekend with the forecast we had.  Our intentions were to just have fun project shopping  for fall, not really trying to send anything.  But after doing all the moves on it Day 1, and allowing myself to get sucked back into a second round the next day, it did sting a little to come up half an inch short on the final move of the crux at weekend’s end.  It also stung to graze my back against the wall during the crux fall, but probably not as much as it would have stung to slam into the tree, which was the other option.  That said, I’m hoping that my efforts will painlessly pay off this fall!

Big C crushing Rorschach Ink Blots 5.8+

MEMORIAL DAY AT THE RED:  Our spring season “grand finale” was a little anti-climactic.  Conditions were more reminiscent of what we’d expect in late July rather than end of May.  It didn’t stop us from trying hard, but it DID stop my sending streak…unless you count warm-ups, and even those weren’t necessarily a sure thing!  The silver lining of the weekend was that CragDaddy not only put down Hippocrite 12a, but managed to do so before lunch on the last day, which enabled us to get back early enough for me to get a head start packing for our next day’s adventure – 4 days at the aforementioned beach house.  

It’s times like these that I’m really thankful to live where we do, having both the mountains and the coast close enough to visit on a whim.  And while I’m certain we’ll get our fair share of climbing adventures in over the summer, my guess is that we’ll probably spend just as much time in the water as we do on the rock.  Tis the season for pools, kayaks, and trompin’ in the creek!  

My favorite partners in climb

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[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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Gettin’ Sendy on Green Envy

I am quick to profess my love for the New River Gorge.  It is the gold standard by which I measure all other crags against.  I’ve been climbing there since 2007 and it just never gets old.  But for all that love, there’s just as much frustration, as the nature of NRG climbing seems to know just how to expose both my strengths and weaknesses, sometimes even on the same route.  

Generally speaking, the New is known for being “reachy,” and is stereotypically harder for shorter climbers.  This is the major reason why the really strong climbing team kids mostly go to the Red.  This also helps explain why there have been countless female 5.14 ascents at other major climbing destinations, but only 2 women can stake that claim at the New.  (And those achievements have only been in the last few years – prior to 2015, the New had seen one 13c ascent by a female, despite lots of 13b’s.)  Obviously, as routes get more difficult, there is an expectation that the distance between holds could get larger.  But at most other areas, there will often be intermediate handholds or a higher foothold to mitigate the height factor.  The rock at the New is less featured, and it’s not uncommon for everyone to be making moves off the same holds.  

Hangin’ around on Yowsah 12a

As for me, one of my only two 5.13’s was at the New – The Ruchert Motion 13a, sent in December of 2017.  But aside from that, my hardest NRG sends were 12b’s.  And considering that Ruchert is an 89 degree slab where the crux was all about footwork and terrible holds (aka everything I love), it has been easy for me to write that one off as an anomaly.  With that obvious exception, I’ve sort of considered 12b to be my ceiling at the New, and have rarely ventured on anything harder.

But a season training with Power Climbing Company last year has inspired me to think bigger and try harder.  Since then I’ve been throwing myself whole heartedly into working on my most obvious weakness – big moves requiring big power.  

Spring rains keeping approaches exciting!

 

I was greatly encouraged to see my training paying off a few weeks ago when I was able to do all the moves on Green Envy 12c on my first day of working it.  I even managed a 2 hang…but all on toprope.  There is a fairly big, fairly swinging fall potential between the 3rd and 4th bolts, and I can sometimes be a fairly big pansy.

Anyway, after finally finding a 12c that seemed both doable and enjoyable, I was psyched to see a cooperative weather forecast this past weekend.  Unfortunately, the rain from the night before had drenched all warm-up possibilities, which meant we had to warm up on the project.  

There was a lot of stick-clipping, pulling on draws, and other shenanigans that are common when your warm up isn’t really a warm-up, but at least the rock felt great.  Conditions were supberb, save one key jug with a puddle in it.  We stuffed a microfiber towel in it to suck up the water, and it was good to go!

With my second attempt came the debate over leading vs toproping.  After the “warm-up lap”, plus several crux rehearsals on the way down, I was feeling pretty good about all the moves except the initial boulder problem I’d had to skip (and couldn’t lower back to.)  Most importantly, I’d yet to come anywhere close to linking the crux into the run out, and the thought of heading into that terrain pumped made me feel a little nauseated.  If I led it, I was pretty certain that I would automatically hang at the crux bolt.  

Hitting the jug slot after the runout.

After a lot of hemming and hawing, I decided to have one more “dress rehearsal” on TR before giving it a redpoint go.  I knew I could give it hell on TR, and get a realistic picture of how the runout would feel physically when it’s go time..  Once I’m in redpoint mode, I’m not thinking about the fall anyway, and I figured the confidence boost of a long TR link might be more beneficial than a hesitant lap bolt to bolt.  (Honestly you guys, the fall is probably not that bad.  I’m not trying to make a huge deal out of it, just trying to be authentic on the blog!)  

Sure enough, I TR’d it clean, with only a slight pang of regret when I made the final hard move and stepped into the rest before the 5.10 terrain leading to the top.  It’s all part of the process.  If I did it once, I could do it again – and most importantly, because my brain wasn’t cluttered up thinking about the falls, I was able to find a surprisingly good shake out stance a few moves before the runout, which assured me I wouldn’t be doing scary moves with a scary pump.

After a nice long rest, it was time to git er done.  The initial boulder problem went well, as did the second crux just after that.  I sunk down low in my newly found rest stance and slowed my breathing.  I moved smoothly into the runout section, but when it came time to rock onto the high foot and latch the side by side crimps, the filtered sunlight blinded me for a second, and my right hand accidentally found the hold my left hand needed.  I discovered my mistake when I tried to bring my left hand up and there was nothing there, but after a flash of panic I just flagged my left foot harder and locked off to the clipping hold…crisis averted!

The final test was a very powerful sequence launching out diagonally to a big pocket.  The move requires every millimeter of reach I’ve got, and is exponentially harder to do when pumped, but this time it was more solid and controlled than I’d ever done it.

Another couple of lock offs and a bobbled clip on a twisted draw had me coming in hot to the last rest, but I was able to get it all back and finish it up.  Yay for first 12c at the New!  Also, if anyone is interested in the video, you can check it out below…beware, I climb like a sloth, so I’m not offended if you need to fast forward to the good parts! 😉

As for the next day, what better way to stay balanced after a hard send than to get on something that exploits all your weaknesses?  After hanging draws for my man on Out of the Bag 11d, and trying out Not on the First Date 11c, I headed over to The Hole to get stomped on Yowsah 12a.  It went about as I expected, although I made significant progress between my first and second attempts.  I’m not gonna move heaven and earth to get back to it, but if opportunity presents itself, I will definitely get on it again!  After all, who doesn’t love a long whipper that’s nothing but air!!!

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This Just In – Conditions Matter…A LOT!!!!!

Were you aware of that?  You probably were.  For some reason, I’d forgotten.  Maybe because it’s been so long since I’ve touched rock as dry and crisp as it was this past Saturday.  Or maybe because I’d never experienced such a direct one to one comparison before on such a hard route.  But before I get ahead of myself, let’s rewind it back a few months to where this story actually begins.  

I initially got on Death by Chocolate partly because it looked kinda cool and mostly because it was the only thing dry over Memorial Day.  Then, as usual with a good rock climb, I got sucked in.  I worked it hard right up until a few days before we left for Ten Sleep, before finally conceding to the summer heat.  At that time I would have told you the powerful crux sequence contained the hardest moves I’d ever successfully been able to do on a rope.  My wingspan wasn’t long enough to do the crux the most obvious way, and the only beta that worked for me involved using a bad sloping pinch in combo with a desperate toe hook to fight a seemingly hopeless barn door at full extension.

That left hand…on a previous, significantly warmer day.

I had every other move on lock down – technical crimps down low, check.  Exciting and insecure finish, check.  But after 6 days and 20+ tries on it, I just couldn’t keep the barn door closed mid-crux when I was on point.  My success rate on those moves was probably around 20%.  Not great odds, especially for a route featuring such skin-shredding holds.  

I had several reasons for wanting to get ‘er done before Ten Sleep.  Obviously, it would have been a great confidence boost going into my trip.  And sending “now rather than later” meant coming into fall with no loose ends to tie up.  But mostly, it was because I knew if I waited til fall came around, I wouldn’t care about it as much.  It is, after all, just a piece of rock, and I knew once a couple of months went by, I wouldn’t feel nearly as intensely about it as I did then.  My motivation level is very emotion-based, and I had a feeling that if I didn’t tick it then, I wouldn’t want to summon all the effort to work it again another time, and would instead opt to move on to other stuff.  Especially since CragDaddy had already sent, and we really enjoy working on projects together.  So when it didn’t go down, I chalked it up to just being the one that got away.  

But somehow in the 4 days between the events in this post and the event’s of my last post, climbing conditions had gone from summer to winter.  We literally went from tanks and shorts straight into puffy jackets.  The previous week’s high was 85…and this past weekend I’m not sure it ever got above 45.  

Due to the potential rain that was forecasted in conjunction with the low temps, we opted for Hidden Valley over the New.  And since I didn’t have anything else “in the hopper” so to speak at Hidden Valley, I’d told myself that if I felt good, I would give Death by Chocolate another whirl just for kicks.  Then if it still didn’t feel any closer, I could move on and forget about it for a while.  Now while I’ve always been a big proponent of the “sun’s out, gun’s out” rule, I am NOT a fan of cold and dreary, which is how our first few hours of climbing began.  My toes got so cold on the warm-up I thought about declaring myself done for the day.  But climb number 2 required a little more effort, which heated my body up just enough that I could take note of how absolutely perfect the rock felt. 

Ah, there was that amazing friction that by this point has pretty much achieved unicorn status in the South.  Just like that, project time was here!  As we hiked over to the Chocolate Wall, clouds gave way to sun, and our whole crew just soaked up what it felt like to be rock climbers in October. 

Kiddos having fun in lots of layers

 

“Here we are again!” said my son cheerfully as he and his sister threw their packs down and went off in search of acorn caps, mushrooms, and cool leaves to make a fairy house over on the rocks at the base.  The line looked as intimidating as ever, and a big part of me just wanted to walk away.  I thought back to one of my favorite lines from The Dawn Wall, which I’d seen just a few days prior, when Kevin Jorgeson was in the midst of struggling with Pitch 15 after Tommy Caldwell had already sent.  “Everything was perfect, and I still couldn’t do it,” he had said authentically at what seemed like his lowest point on the wall.  I laughed to myself as I thought I would probably be saying the same thing at the end of the day.  But we were all there so I at least had to try, right?  (I mean, it worked out pretty well for Kevin in the end too, so why not?!?)  

Of course all of my tick marks were gone, so my first run up felt decidedly unsmooth as I struggled to find all the holds in the filtered sunshine and remember all the beta.  But when I got to the crux and made the big move to the sloping pinch, my hand stuck exactly where I put it, instead of sliding into place.  I was so surprised that I fell.  I pulled back on, ticked and brushed all the crux holds, and got back on.  The moves felt more doable than they ever had.  The finish, which had seemed so scary and “it won’t be over til I clip chains,” felt straightforward and I daresay almost casual.  Who had swapped out all these holds?!?  

Letting go of this right hand to catch a micro-crimp before opening up is the crux.

I lowered, letting a slight amount of optimism creep in, but not too much.  But when it was my turn again, lo and behold, I sent!  It was weird – no desperation, no try hard sounds, no exciting, go for it moments.  I just did the same beta I’d been doing all along, and this time it worked.  In that moment, everything came together in a completely anti-climactic way, as if the route was actually 5.10.  

It went down so easily I almost feel guilty claiming the grade.  Why on earth couldn’t I make that move last June?  Yet had I sent 3 months ago, I would have without a doubt said that for me personally, the crux on this route was substantially harder than anything I’d done before, despite being a slightly lower grade than my highest redpoint. 

While I suppose it’s possible that my power has improved some since my previous bouts with this route, I don’t think that can account for how drastically different the route felt this time around – I think it’s pretty obvious that conditions were the real star of the show here.  I’d always known that cold temps = sending time…but I don’t think I’d ever realized just how much of a difference it makes.  I guess because I generally don’t start trying anything hard until the weather is already pretty good, so I’ve never gotten a true comparison on something close to my limit.  Who wants to hop on a project when it’s hot outside?  Not me.  

So that said…is it 12d?!?  Looking just at Sunday’s performance, I’d say no way.  But looking at the sum total of work I’ve put into it, I’d say that it very well could be, and I managed to show up at just the right place and right time to pull it off.  Either way is good with me, I’m just happy I finally did it!  Cheers to hopefully more sending weather in the coming weeks!  

 

 

 

 

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NRG Rounds 1 and 2…aka “Hey Fall, No One Likes A Tease.”

Desperate Egyptian-move beta on Bourbon Sauce 11d

Our first fall forays at the New a couple of weeks ago actually ALMOST felt like fall.  Then this past weekend was back to summer.  Autumn is such a tease here in the Southeast.  I’m over it.  It’s hard on the psych.  And it’s hard on the skin. Considering conditions the past couple of months can be summed up by the phrases “hot,” “wet”, or “hot and wet,” CragDaddy and I both came into the NRG with low expectations.  Aside from a sweltering Labor Day weekend at the Red in Amazonian rainforest conditions, we’ve pretty much been gym rats since we got back from Ten Sleep in July. I know for me personally, it always takes me a while to get my lead head back on straight when I haven’t been climbing outdoors a lot.  But despite a somewhat inconsistent start, it seems like fall is finally getting underway.

Our first weekend out was probably the wettest I’ve ever seen the gorge, even though it wasn’t actually raining.  (Hurricane Florence is the gift that keeps on giving.)   Trails were mudslides, and trickling streams were raging waterfalls.  So a lot of our initial options were nixed due to wet conditions, but we found plenty of dry rock at Summersville.  On our first day out we managed to get in 3 pitches – Baby’s Got a Bolt Gun 10c, Strong Arming the Little Guy 10b, and Orange Oswald 10a before moving over to Long Wall once the crowds all descended.  Our afternoon was spent at Long Wall, where CragDaddy was finally able to put down Under the Milky Way 11d, a line that he’s for some reason always waited to get on until the end of the day when he’s tired. And after a very poor showing on my first attempt at Maximum Overdrive 11c, I pulled myself together and sent 2nd go without sucking too much wind.

Sunday was my turn to pick a route, and I chose Morning Dew 12a, a route that so many people say is soft for the grade but I just couldn’t pull together on point the last time I tried it a couple of years ago. It’s such a long hike that we never made it back, but a weekend without an agenda seemed like the perfect opportunity to get some closure on it. But after an hour of hiking, we rounded the corner and….it was a waterfall, the only wet line at Fern that day. Dangit.

He didn’t get much farther than this…but he still had fun 😉

So we dropped back and punted over to a route that was a good deal harder than we’d initially wanted for a first weekend out in a while, but had been on our bucket list for a long time – Thieves in the Temple. It gets 12b in the guidebook…but has a reputation as the hardest, most sandbagged 12b in the gorge.  Without a warm-up other than an hour and a half of hiking, CragDaddy hopped on it, with stick-clip at the ready. I’ll spare you the details, but we both got annihilated on our first attempts. It’s 90 feet of nonstop V4 climbing, with a V5ish crux on the upper face.  The movement is varied and super technical, with a little bit of everything. Burly start, crimps, long reach off a mantle, big deadpoint that goes straight into a pumpy, scary traverse…then the crux starts on the face, and doesn’t really let up til the chains.  Despite the struggle, I was able to do all the moves on my first go, and on my second go gave a valiant effort linking the first 5 bolts before petering out and hanging on all the remaining bolts. The thought of actually putting it all together was pretty overwhelming, but it felt like the kinda thing that might be doable later on in the season after some more power endurance training. 

Psych was high coming home from that trip, and after a couple of really good training days at the gym during the week, we found ourselves back at the New again, this time starting out at Butcher’s Branch.  The only bad part about Butcher’s Branch this time of year is the crowds.  Lucky for us, at this point we’ve done all the popular routes.  So after getting down there early to put up Flight of the Gumby 5.9 for Big C, we were able to relax and take our time the rest of the day because no one wanted a piece of Bourbon Sauce 11d.  I’ve been climbing there for over 10 years and I literally don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone on it. 

I just assumed it must not be that great of a route, but I was pleasantly surprised!  It’s every bit as good as the other hard 11’s on the wall.  It shares a start with Control 12a (another good line that no one ever does!), then traverses left for a burly roof pull.  The climbing eases up until you reach another roof, where a final (and super fun!) boulder problem awaits before the chains.  My first go I struggled down low but found the upper crux flowed really well for me.  I was not confident tying in second go, but I managed to send.  It wasn’t a sure thing – I almost fell at least 3x pulling over the initial roof, and on the first move of the upper crux my feet went flying off unexpectedly.  While the grade alone might not be that impressive, I’m pretty psyched about it – if you wanted to set a route that exposed my specific weaknesses, it would probably look a lot like Bourbon Sauce, so I was pumped! (Both literally and figuratively ;)).  

The fall critters are here…but where are the fall temps?!?

After a confidence boosting start to the weekend, it was back to Fern for another duel with Thieves in the Temple.  I linked the same 5 bolts again, but then fell in the same spot again.  The traverse went a little better, but my left hand kept sliding off the crux crimp, and eventually I had to just pull through.  I did find better beta for the last couple of moves though, and the finish felt the best it’s ever felt.  Physically, I’d say the battle ended in a stalemate.  Mentally…my psych level for getting on this route again is potentially lower now.  That thing is going to be a monster to link, and it’s not worth trying again until the temps are no longer 85 with 100% humidity. #whereareyoufall

Also worth noting is that I (still) can’t do the move on Fly Girls, and that Quickie in the Molar would’ve been an okay route minus the weird traverse, bad bolts, and chossy rock up high.  Sometimes the obscure routes are worth doing, sometimes not…

That said, I’d say our season as a whole is getting off to an unexpectedly decent start.  The only extreme lack of success so far as been in the photography department…our first weekend we didn’t get a SINGLE shot that had anything to do with actual climbing.  This past weekend we were only slightly better.  Sorry about that. We’ll try to get our photo game going, hopefully happy sooner rather than later, as the weather seems like it finally wants to shift in the right direction.  (Fingers crossed.)  

Related Images:

[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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