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Category Archives: Linville Gorge

Spring Climbing Grand Finale…and Time for a Break!

If you’ve been hanging around this blog for a while, you may be aware that our family generally takes a break from climbing twice a year, during the “off season.”  I put that in quotes for the term off season because here in the Southeast, it’s actually pretty easy to climb year round, so long as you chase sun/shade effectively.  In fact, some of my best  climbing days have been on a sunny winter day, or a cool cloudy day in late summer.  But generally speaking, prime conditions for climbing on a rope tend to happen during spring and fall.  That means our off season breaks land around the holidays (which is nice because it’s always so hectic then anyway!), and during the throes of summer heat (when the only fun things to do outdoors involve water or the wee hours of the morning.)

Approaching the roof crux, Line of Fire 12c

Approaching the roof crux, Line of Fire 12c

When we first started doing this, it was hard to make ourselves take a complete break from climbing.  We miss the social aspect of weekend trips and mid-week training sessions.  It’s also hard to walk away from a project left undone.  But after doing this for several years, we’ve discovered that the physical and mental benefits far outweigh any temporary strength/endurance loss that occurred over the break.  Nagging soreness in elbows/fingers/shoulders subsides as we give climbing-specific muscles a chance to repair from any repetitive damage done during project season.  We get the chance to catch up on all those around the house projects that were either neglected or left in a various state of “undoneness” for the past few weeks (ie landscaping, deep cleaning, gutters, raking, etc.)

Some seasons are easier to walk away from than others.  It’s hard to stop climbing when you are climbing strong!   But it helps to keep in mind that taking a lot of strength into the summer months is often a waste of effort and skin down here in the humid South!  I’ve learned the hard way that it’s usually easier to just wait until the cooler temps of fall rather than battle it out in the heat!

On the other hand, sometimes even after a good season I find myself feeling a little burnt out, and welcome the break.  To be honest, after a frustratingly sub-par trip to the New River Gorge over Memorial Day, my psych level was pretty low and I was ready to take my focus elsewhere.  The CragDaddy, however, had absolutely crushed it that same weekend, and still had plenty of stoke for his sending fires.

I went into what we’d assumed would be our last spring trip of the season just looking forward to having a day with the CragDaddy sans kiddos.  However, I surprised myself and almost sent Line of Fire 12c.  Since CragDaddy was also close on his project (Tips Ahoy 12d), we opted for ONE MORE daytrip last weekend…and we BOTH sent!  It was the best (and most unexpected) way for us both to wrap up a season that involved loads of fun with family, friends, and even some personal bests for us both!

Our current fave way to celebrate a send - milkshakes after the kids go to bed!!!

Our current fave way to celebrate a send – milkshakes after the kids go to bed!!!

With all that said, it’ll probably be a few weeks until you see another trip report on here.  In just a couple of days, we’ll be heading up to New York for a combo wedding/Niagara Falls trip, then it’s off to the beach with family for a week!  After a couple of weeks completely off, we’ll probably get back into our gym routine, and may even plan a few low-key outdoor days here and there, but we probably won’t start bringing our “try hard” pants to the crag until end of August at the earliest!

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[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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A Weekend Escape to the NC High Country

Although we’d had plans made for the past few weeks already, I was pretty pleased when I saw that our weekend getaway to the NC mountains aligned with Charlotte’s first (of what will hopefully not be TOO many) 100 degree days. This particular escape was one of my favorite types of trips – a hybrid family/climbing/hiking weekend that makes for all sorts of fun and variety.

Pulling the initial roof crux on Line of Fire 12c Photo creds: Justin Hedrick

Pulling the initial roof crux on Line of Fire 12c Photo creds: Justin Hedrick

After enjoying a gorgeous Grandfather Mountain view with our morning coffee, the CragDaddy and I headed up to the Linville Gorge for a “crag-date” at Hawksbill Mountain.  (Thank you to Bebe and Papa Joe for entertaining both kiddos!)  On his agenda was Tips Ahoy 12d, while I had my eyes on Line of Fire 12c.  A long term goal of mine is to systematically work my way through the 5.12 wall, and I’d saved Line of Fire for AFTER Tips Ahoy (more here on that send), because I knew it would push me out of my comfort zone a bit.  Even though grade-wise it’s a letter grade easier, both Line of Fire cruxes are bouldery and powerful – loooooong moves requiring some dynamic movement.  Bouldering and moving dynamically are things that I am decidedly NOT good at, so I envisioned having a harder time with this one.

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I’d gotten on it once before, the same day that I’d sent Tips Ahoy, and to be honest, was not optimistic that a send was gonna happen any time soon.  But my first run up went really well, and I had no trouble getting the draws in bolt to bolt.  My second go was SO close – I was clean all the way to the upper crux, when I came up just short of the glory jug 2 moves from the anchors.  And as it turns out, my second go was also my BEST go…I tried 2 more times, and each time I nailed the first crux, but then fell a few moves later.

Wish I would have sent, but to be honest, I’m just psyched it feels doable, because I thought some of the individual moves were going to give me a lot of trouble.  Plus, since CragDaddy didn’t send either, we now BOTH have an excuse to get back up there sooner rather than later!

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Next morning we drove back to the Linville area, this time with the whole family, and this time to visit the falls.  We started out hiking along the “tour de overlooks” on the rim of the gorge.  Beautiful, yes, but also a little crowded.  We then decided to check out the view along the bottom of the gorge.  This hike was longer and much more strenuous, but the view from the bottom was breathtaking.  A picnic lunch followed by a dip in the clear, cold mountain water made the extra effort worthwhile!

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By the time we got back to our car, we had two exhausted kiddos, the younger of which was growing crankier and more desperate for a nap by the minute.  We assumed she’d fall asleep on the way to our next stop, Linville Caverns, but she didn’t get that memo.  We next thought she’d crash in a babywearing nap as we toured the cave…wrong again.  After what seemed like hours (but was really 15 minutes) of constant wrangling and screaming, Baby Zu and I bowed out of our tour and hung out in a patch of shade while the rest of the family finished up.  I’d say the caverns were a bust….except that Big C loved EVERY minute of it!!!  He has not stopped talking about all the “cool things he saw underground.”

We wrapped up the evening with some live music back in Blowing Rock, and dinner at a family favorite – Mellow Mushroom.  We came down off the mountain with exhausted bodies but happy hearts.  When we pulled into the driveway, it felt great to be home; but then I stepped outside into the heat and humidity…summer is here folks!

Related Images:

[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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Hawksbill Round 2: A New Personal Best!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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New Project at Hawksbill Mountain

For our family, the month of May marks perfect sending conditions at one of our favorite crags – Hawksbill Mountain in the Linville Gorge. The sending season here is short – if you come in April your hands will for sure numb out due to a frigid combination of chilly temps, shady rock, and brutal wind gusts. But if you wait much past early June, the humidity makes for pretty manky crux holds, especially by late afternoon once the sun comes around.

Although we can be at the crag parking lot in 2 hours flat, the hike is pretty intense, especially with the kiddos…a relentless uphill slog for 30-40 minutes, followed by a rocky scramble down a rhododendron-laden gully for another 20 minutes or so. Once your down there, the cliff base is rocky, with very few flat areas, which makes chasing after a climbing toddler even more stressful (and tiresome) than usual. All that said, despite the fact that we love the climbing here, we tend to only hit this area a time or two each year.

The New Proj: Tips Ahoy 12d

The New Proj: Tips Ahoy 12d

But after this past weekend’s excursion, I’m hoping that we can start to change that.  As opposed to previous years where the approach took over an hour (and about a pound of hiking bears), Big C dominated the hike on Saturday.  He even said his favorite part was scrambling up and down the gully.  Apparently 6 year old legs ARE stronger and longer than 5 year old ones!

Blooming rhodos made for a beautiful approach!

Blooming rhodos made for a beautiful approach!

The great part about Hawksbill is that there are a whole hosts of routes that are in a good project range for the CragDaddy and I.  On the 5.12 wall, the only route either of us has sent has been Hard Rock Cafe 12c (and congratulations to the CragDaddy on the send this past weekend!)  As for me, I am now completely invested in a new route obsession – Tips Ahoy 12d.  Grade-wise it’s a little harder than some of the other lines on the wall, but I’d been told by more than one person that this one would be a good one for me to try.  Apparently, it’s more sustained than the other lines, but the moves are not quite as big.  Add that to the fact that my friend Drew already had the draws up, and hopping on it was a no-brainer!

My first attempt I opted to toprope it.  I’d never led 12d before, and that pre-hung rope was just too tempting to pass up!  The initial moves were hard but I actually made it through clean – long NRG-style lock0ffs to small but positive edges.  Then came the crux – getting paired up on two tiny razor blades to make a toss to a sharp, pointy crimp, followed by another deep lockoff to another sharp crimp (as the name suggests, this route is not exactly easy on the finger tips.) I flailed around a LOT  before finally settling on some beta that worked for me, but i got it figured out eventually.   After the crux comes a traverse that is more technical than it is hard, followed by a ladder of crimps that, while significantly easier than the rest of the route, is still way to hard to be considered a “victory lap.”

Next I tackled the route on the sharp end – a big step for me, as I’d never led anything this difficult before.  I was surprised at how good I felt.  Everything was going great until I reached up to clip the 3rd bolt and realized that no matter how hard I tugged, no more rope was coming.  I heard a bunch of commotion below me (which included a few choice words that I generally don’t like my children to hear), and saw my belayer desperately trying to pull my rope out from under a big rock.  I managed to hang on long enough for things to get sorted, but sat on the rope immediately after getting the bolt clipped.  I would LOVE to say that my first 12d would have gone down 2nd go had it not been for that incident…but I am 99.9% sure that I would have fallen at the crux.  Stuff like that happens and is all part of the game – my belayer obviously felt really bad about it and apologized profusely…but if you are local, feel free to give Kurt Fischer hell next time you see him 😉

CragDaddy in sending mode on Hard Rock Cafe 12c

CragDaddy in sending mode on Hard Rock Cafe 12c

After the hang, I actually shocked myself by making the crux move 1st go, although I immediately rested before the traverse (the fall is clean, but I always have a hard time committing to traverses!)  Once I started the traverse, I took it all the way to the top.  Despite all the shenanigans I felt awesome about a two-hang, and was confident that while it might not be in the same day, a send was definitely attainable!

More spectacular wildflowers along the approach!

More spectacular wildflowers along the approach!

By the time my turn in the rotation came up again, my spirit was willing…but my flesh was obviously weak.  I took a rather awkward but safe fall trying to hit the clipping hold for the 2nd bolt.  On the crux holds my fingertips felt so raw that I imagined only a microscopically thin layer of skin was keeping them from becoming completely shredded.  I limped my way through the crux, linking only a couple of moves at a time, and hobbled my way to the finish, after resting on the rope several more times along the way.

Part of me wishes I would have stopped while I was ahead at attempt #2, because I left the crag feeling more destroyed than confident.  But I know the more mileage I get in on it, the better I’ll have it dialed.  And I will not be able to send it unless I have the moves COMPLETELY dialed in, since there are pretty much zero rests on the entire route, save a stray shake here and there.

It feels great to be able to focus on something new.  I realized I’ve spent most of the spring focused on unfinished business from the year before (ie Jesus and Tequila 12b.)  Since I probably won’t be able to touch that one again til the fall, it is really nice to have something else on the horizon that could go soon.

I’m hoping to get another crack at it in a couple of weeks.  In the meantime, it’s 4x4s in the gym, followed by a long weekend at the Red.  Hopefully the weather will be more spring and less winter this time around!

Related Images:

[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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The Tick List for 2016

For our family this year, the holidays have involved sharing a little more with each other than we had intended – our winter break started with a stomach virus that violently ransacked it’s way through our entire household in a matter of hours.  The next two weeks were a blur of family, friends, and Christmas cookies…LOTS of Christmas cookies.  As far as climbing goes, we did manage to squeeze in a few days at the gym here and there, as well as a laidback day outside on the first day of 2016.  But overall the ratio of Christmas cookies to climbing ratio was not good…for sending anyway.

But it’s a new year, and with a new year comes new training cycles, and with new training cycles comes new tick lists!  So even though I’m still wiping cookie crumbs off my face as I type this, here’s what I’m aiming to accomplish, both as an individual and with my family:

Psyched to see how this feels with the new kneepad the hubby got me for Christmas!

Psyched to see how this feels with the new kneepad the hubby got me for Christmas!

 INSPIRATION FROM NEW PROJECTS –

Towards the end of last year I found myself getting a little burnt out on climbing.  I had several heart breaking (in a 1st world problem way) almost-sends and came up short a little more than I wanted.  Many times the logistics of getting back the whole family (plus an extra patner) back to routes to finish them up often left me feeling more frustrated than psyched.  The annual “off season” our family always takes around the holidays was a much needed break.  My goal for this year is to focus more on the process than crossing something off the list.  This is not to say that I’m not out to send in 2016.  But I’m haoping to take a wiser approach when it comes to which routes are worth the efforts (physically, mentally, and logistically) to come back to and project, and which routes are okay to try once and leave undone for now.  In other words, my climbing time is at a premium, and I don’t want to waste it on routes that aren’t fun!  So the following are routes I have yet to try that I want to experience at least once.  If I’m feeling inspired, I’ll try for the send, if not, it’s on to the next!

Orange Juice 12c (Red River Gorge)
Twinkie 12a (Red River Gorge)
Amarillo Sunset 11b (Red River Gorge)
Ro Shampo 12a (Red River Gorge)
Gift of Grace 12b (New River Gorge)
Toxic Hueco 11d (New River Gorge)
Line of Fire 12c (Linville Gorge)
Tips Ahoy 12d (Linville Gorge)

Until next time...Jesus and Tequila 12b.

Until next time…Jesus and Tequila 12b.

I’d also be thrilled to send 12c at the New…Techman is the obvious choice, as I’ve gottten fairly close on that one before, but I’m probably more open to choosing something new that fits my style and putting in work.

WRAPPING UP OLD PROJECTS –

While I meant every previous word about savoring the journey of a route, no tick list is complete without a goal to exact revenge on at least some of the ones that got away during the previous year.
Jesus and Tequila 12b:  If I only send one route on this list, this is the one I want.  Ever since our last trip of the fall in 2015 I have been haunted by the one foot slip 10 feet from the chains that kept me from victory on this amazing classic.  I’ve obsessed over visualized the beta sequences on just about every neighborhood run since then, rehearsing everything from the opening moves to clipping the chains as my feet pound the pavement (and burn off the aforementioned Christmas cookies.)  This WILL GO DOWN in 2016.
New World Order 12a:  My crux on this route taught me a lot about dynamic movement, and the line as a whole is an exercise in patience and pump management.  My best go was a one-hang last November, but I’m hopeful to dispatch it pretty quickly this spring.

While “exacting revenge” might be a little strong for the following routes, I include them down here because I’ve been on them all at least once, and would love another crack.
Mercy the Huff 12b (Red River Gorge)
Soul Ram 12b: (Red River Gorge)
Psychowrangler 12a (New River Gorge)
Blackhappy 12b (New River Gorge)

Looking forward to more adventures with this kidcrusher!

Looking forward to more adventures with this kidcrusher!

FAMILY PROJECTS –

Another exciting goal for the upcoming year involves our aspirations as a climbing family.  Big C is starting to take more and more of an interest in the “family business,” so to speak, and this year we’d like to cultivate that interest as best we can.  It all depends on him obviously, as we don’t want to push, but potentially we are planning a few outdoor excursions as a team of 3 (Baby Zu can hang at home with the grands!) and possibly on having him join the climbing team at our local gym.

I’m sure these goals and plans will morph some as the year unfolds, but writing things down, whether it be via pen and paper or cyberspace, helps me stay on track.  So with that in mind, I’d love to hear from everyone else.  What are your goals and aspirations for 2016, both climbing and otherwise, and how do you plan to get there?  Don’t be afraid to think big!

Related Images:

[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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Gettin’ High Off the Ground in Linville Gorge

Looks like a good picnic spot to me!

Looks like a good picnic spot to me!

This past weekend our family did an overnight in the Linville Gorge.  If you’ve never been to the Linville Gorge, it’s pretty spectacular!  If you like being outside at all, you will fall in love with this place, as it is top-notch at pretty much whatever outdoor endeavor you like.  On this particular occasion, we had planned a 24 hour quickie of hiking, climbing, camping, and lazing around in the hammock.  Thankfully it’s only a couple of hours from our house, and we arrived on Friday evening a little bit after 6 – just enough time for a short hike/picnic along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, per Big C’s request.

We camped at Hawksbill, and woke up to a gorgeous morning.  Our climbing partners were day-tripping and wouldn’t be there until 10 am, so after a leisurely breakfast, we got the jump on the approach hike.  While only 1.1 miles, it’s rather grueling, especially for 5 year old legs.  It’s relentlessly uphill for a mile…then 3rd class scrambling down a gully for several hundred feet.  At the climber’s turnoff, Big C and I dropped our packs and scampered up the additional 5 minutes to the summit.  It was a clear day, and we were rewarded with amazing views!  Big C wanted to know the name of every mountain, ridge, and cliffline as far as the eye could see, then after a bit of rock hopping fun, we headed back down and continued our approach.

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The only real agenda on the day was for Crag-Daddy Steve to send Hard Rock Cafe (5.12c).  It had been one of my main objectives during the spring season, and he’d gotten sucked into it last time we were out there.  Since I’d already done that one, and anything “next” on the list there would involve powerful cranking off small razor blades, I took the opportunity to save my skin and exercise my will power instead.  (I’m currently smack dab in the middle of a hangboarding phase in prep for our Ten Sleep trip coming up in August, which means I’m supposed to be taking it easy on the fingers.)  I got in on the warm-up (If You Bolt It, They Will Come 5.10a), made a half-assed attempt at Manifest Destiny (5.12c), and then took my harness off and hammocked with the kiddos.  Unfortunately Steve didn’t send and we’ll have to come back another time…which is fine by me, because there is a stack of routes down there I’d love to get on when I’m psyched to try hard!

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Had our day ended there I would have been satisfied with a great day outside with friends and family.   But my personal highlight came unexpectedly at the end of the day.  My friend Sam was itching to get in another couple of pitches, and had his eye on the traditional classic, Lost in Space (5.10b.)  His partner wasn’t up for it, so he dangled the carrot in front of me – leading, following, whatever I wanted, as he had done it already and just wanted to get on it again.  The Crag-Daddy pointed out that if he hiked out with both kiddos at a 5 year old pace, and Sam and I got started right away, we could probably finish, walk off, and make it back to the parking lot before the kids started going crazy.  After all, Baby Zu had taken a great afternoon nap, and the area around the parking lot was a great place for curious hands and feet to pass the time away.

Breathtaking views at the top of Hawksbill Mountain!

Breathtaking views at the top of Hawksbill Mountain!

And with that we were off!  As I headed up the gully to the base of the route, I felt giddy with excitement…and also a little nervous.  Pre-kiddos, Steve and I did a lot of multi-pitch climbing.  And while I’ve since been dabbling in enough trad climbing to remain competent in my gear placing skills, it’s been years since I’ve brought a second up (our Vegas getaway in 2012.)  And not to mention I can’t even remember the last time I built a gear anchor.

One of my favorite hiking partners!

One of my favorite hiking partners!

I didn’t know a thing about Lost in Space (other than the obligatory photo opp at the start of pitch 2 that everyone always posts on facebook.)  But I sure as heck knew I wasn’t going to let the chance to flash such a classic money pitch slip out of my fingers.  Sam was kind enough to let me use his gear, and gave me some beta on the post-crux piece as well as what to save for the anchor (the latter probably being more for his own benefit than mine ;) ).

 

The first pitch was decent, but definitely just the way to get up to the goodness above.  A slab and a lieback corner later and we were both at the belay, staring down the roof of pitch 2.  I was pretty darn intimidated (“It’s 5.10. It’s 5.10.  It’s 5.10″, I kept telling myself.)  I crawled out under the roof, placed a piece, and got my hands on the jug at the lip of the roof.  It’s a looooong move to the next horizontal.  I hemmed and hawed up and down for at least 10 minutes, unable to commit.  I eventually realized that I could place a piece at the lip, making the fall about a zillion times better, and committed straightaway.  (For the record, the move felt pretty darn hard for 5.10…maybe it would feel easier 10 feet off the deck instead of 100…)  The rest of the pitch was a casual romp up a corner system to the “almost” top.  I kept looking back, savoring the exposure, and at one point realized I had a ridiculous perma-grin on my face.  It was over all too soon!  I brought Sam up, we scrambled around to the trail, grabbed our packs, and sprinted back to the cars.

The infamous photo opp on the crux pitch!

The infamous photo opp on the crux pitch!

A random 2 pitch climb might not seem like that big of a deal to folks without young children…but for me it was such a special treat!  I realized it had been so long that I’d almost forgotten what that sort of adventure tasted like.  It will still be a pretty long while before the Crag-Daddy and I are able to get high off the ground together, but that romp up Lost in Space was a great reminder that the rock will still be there when we are ready.  (And the adventures will be twice as amazing…and maybe even triple or quadruple, if the kids decide they want in on it!!!)

I’m grateful for that impromptu opportunity, as it was refreshing for my soul.  But for now, it’s back to more grounded family adventures…which are just as exhilarating, though in a different kind of way!

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