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Anniversary Trip to Hidden Valley

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

Cheesy love selfies totally allowed on anniversary trips.

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

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

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

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

Rodent’s Lament 13b Photo: Nick Hitchcock

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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2016: Tis the Season for a Year in Review

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Mirage 12c

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoying the view from the Tree Ledge

Stone Mountain multi-pitch with the CragKiddo

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

Line of Fire 12c Photo creds: Justin Hedrick

Line of Fire 12c Photo creds: Justin Hedrick

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

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

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

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

Tips Ahoy 12dPhoto: Joe Virtanen

Tips Ahoy 12dPhoto: Joe Virtanen

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

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

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

 

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Jesus and Tequila = SENT!!!

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

Iphone sending shot, courtesy of Rebekah MacNair

Iphone sending shot, courtesy of Rebekah MacNair

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

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

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

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

These two ragamuffins had a great day!

These two ragamuffins had a great day!

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

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

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

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

Little Z and her new friend R.

Little Z and her new friend R.

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

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

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

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

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

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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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New River Gorge: The (Almost) Day of Reckoning

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

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

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

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

Trying hard on the J n T crux...

Trying hard on the J n T crux…

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

...aaaand I'm off.

…aaaand I’m off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CragDaddy cruxin' on Control 12a

CragDaddy cruxin’ on Control 12a

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

The magnificent view atop J n T.

The magnificent view atop J n T.

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Alex Johnson on Projecting, Sending, and Lessons Learned

So much of climbing, especially projecting, is puzzle piecing. It isn’t whether or not you’re strong enough to do the climb, or do each individual move on the climb, but figuring out how to do each move, and configuring the most efficient way to combine multiple moves in a row while expending the least amount of energy. I think “projecting” is “perfecting.” Working something so much you get it so dialed that it almost produces imminent, consistent success.

Alex Johnson Red Rock

Alex Johnson Sending Monster Skank. Photo: Ray Davalos

That’s how it was for me working Wet Dream Right (V11/8A Red Rock, NV). When I first started trying, I could do a couple moves, but some were so inconsistent, I couldn’t link sections of the boulder in a row. By the time I wrapped it up, I had perfected the climb’s movements. I was able to do every move on its own 100% of the time, and so efficiently, that I even when I linked them, I expended very little energy by the time I got to the final hard move.

Sometimes after I send things, I feel weird. Like I don’t know why they take so long to finish… During the process, you forget where you started. By the time you send something you’ve been working for a long period of time, it’s hard to recall how difficult the climb in its entirety felt at the beginning. This is how I felt about Monster Skank.

Alex Johnson Projecting

Alex on Day 1 of the Monster Skank Project. Photo: Kati Hetrick

You spend a few days, weeks, months on something, and then when you finally do it, you could feel so inexpressibly victorious you almost cry… or you might feel unsatisfied. Like, “Hm. I wasn’t fighting tooth and nail for every move of this climb. Maybe it really isn’t that hard. Why couldn’t I just do this last season?” When in fact, it could be that you’ve so perfected each sequence, that when you eventually finish the climb, all you really had to do was execute, in exactly the way you know how—because you’ve been doing the same moves for months.

There’s also the typical cliched opinion that the more time you spend on something, the sweeter it feels to finish, and of course that’s true. But often for me, it’s the opposite, the previously stated lack of satisfaction, almost disappointment in myself for not completing the climb faster, sooner.

Alex Johnson Day 1 Monster Skank

Day 1 Try-Hard Face

And then all these other questions race through your mind (or mine, at least) like, are the temps better today? Am I stronger? Fitter? Climbing better? Is my breathing more controlled? Am I less afraid of falling?

What was it? What was the determining factor in today’s success, versus all the other days of failure?

I heard on a (non-climbing related) podcast recently, that there’s no such thing as a failed relationship, no matter the result, how shitty it may have been, or how epic it seemed in the end. The entire time you were in that relationship you were learning; about yourself, about how you deal with conflict, emotions, etc. You were growing.

I think I want to start applying that to working projects more. I mean, I know every time I try something I learn something new, even if I don’t send it… But I get pretty in my head about things sometimes, especially when I “can’t” do something. I hate not being able to do something. It’s probably the most frustrating personal issue in my climbing life; being shut down. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

Alex Johnson Monster Skank send

Controlled Movement on the Send. Photo: Ray Davalos

And I’m not saying that by needing to project something I’m “being shut down” on it. I’m just saying that sometimes I lose track of the amazing process in my race to success with myself. Being able to climb awesome things is a gift, and if they’re difficult they require more time and commitment. Sometimes I need a little reminder that the process can be just as fun and exciting, if not more, as the end result.

Spring Climbing Season Has Sprung!

CragDaddy fingerlockin on Reckless Abandon 12a

CragDaddy fingerlockin on Reckless Abandon 12a

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tobacco Road 12b

Tobacco Road 12b

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

That little pointer finger...;)

That little pointer finger…;)

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

Me going "full blowfish" on Ministry 12b

Me going “full blowfish” on Ministry 12b

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

 

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[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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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!

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[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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Climbing in 2015 – The Year in Review

For many of us, the end of a year marks a time to reflect on the goals we had for the previous year, as well as make new ones for the next year.  With regards to climbing, I’d left my goals for 2015 fairly open-ended, so as not to get bogged down with all the crazy logistics that go hand in hand with family craggin’.  I basically had 3 items on my list – take a “big” family climbing trip, find some 12c/d routes that played well to my strengths, and send some 12a/b’s that forced me to work on my weaknesses. Overall I’d say I did fairly well, and learned a lot in the process.

Last climb of my Ten Sleep Birthday Challenge - 35th lifetime 5.12 on my 35th bday!

Last climb of my Ten Sleep Birthday Challenge – 35th lifetime 5.12 on my 35th bday!

The first goal was the highest priority of the three, and because of that, received most of my attention.  Back in August we spent almost 2 weeks climbing out West – Wild Iris, Ten Sleep Canyon, and Logan Canyon, to be exact.  I trained hard for it, and crushed all my expectations.  I walked away with hard sends in the double digits, several of which matched my previous hardest onsight to date, and one of which pushed my hardest onsight up by a letter grade.

I made some solid progress on Goal #2, though if I’m being perfectly honest, not as much as I personally would have liked.  Part of the problem was that my goal to send hard 12 was hindered a little by my first goal – I knew my emphasis in Wyoming was going to be onsight climbing, so leading up to the trip I wanted to touch as many new (to me) routes as possible, and not get sucked in to a harder, multi-day project.  But there was definitely progress – I sent Center El Shinto 12b/c, as well as Hard Rock Cafe 12c.  I also gave several good go’s on Techman 12c, a route that is proving to have a frustratingly low percentage crux move on it for me.  The closest I got was a 2-hang, but to be honest, the line is not all that inspiring.  I’m not gonna rule it out, but it’s probably not gonna show up on the “must do” list for 2016.  I also came as close as you can possibly come to sending Jesus and Tequila – technically only 12b, but everyone treats it like such a sandbag that it seems worth mentioning here.

Shaking out on Center El Shinto 5.12b/c

Shaking out on Center El Shinto 5.12b/c

Goal #3 also got some progress, although again, was somewhat hindered by Goal #1 AND #2.  Preparing for the style of technical face climbing we knew we’d encounter on our trip meant logging lots of mileage on terrain that was the exact OPPOSITE of what I needed for Goal #3.  As far as steep climbing goes, I didn’t get a lot of practice but did manage some subtle but noteworthy improvement – Check Your Grip 12a at the Red went in 3 attempts, Standard Issue 11c at the Obed went 2nd go, and I got in one beta burn on Psychowrangler 12a.

That being said, Goal #3 wasn’t just about steep climbing, it was about working my weaknesses, which includes A LOT more than overhanging terrain.  Sticking to mostly face climbing throughout the year still gave me plenty of chance to work on another issue that consistently shuts me down – the dreaded “big move.”  If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, then you are probably aware of how often I find myself able to work through crux moves just fine, only to get stuck in a different spot on the route that ends up being a “non-move” for my (usually taller as well as stronger) climbing partners.

One of the few times I got my steep on this year - Standard Issue 11c

The campus start of Standard Issue 11c

Considering that the New River Gorge is one of the areas I’ve frequented most over the past few years, my lock off strength has slowly and steadily improved as I’ve progressed through the grades.  That ability is what’s seen me through on numerous sends this year – MENSA 11d, Modern Primitive 12b, Fine Motor Control 12a.  But this year in particular, I’ve been putting in a lot of work into the business of “trying hard.”  As in, really getting after it and moving dynamically.  While I’ve often found myself working Lost Souls 12a with a bunch of gym rats vying for their first 5.12, I’d never been able to successfully fire all 3 big moves while on point…until this past May, when I sent it on my 4th try of the weekend.  And though it may not show up on paper, I learned a LOT about coordination and timing on New World Order 12a.  No send (yet), but it will for sure be on the list for the spring.

Letting the feet fly on Lost Souls 12a

Letting the feet fly on Lost Souls 12a

Above all however, this has been a great learning year for me.  I successfully completed 2 (and a half) training cycles using the Rock Climber’s Training Manual (reviewed here), and that allowed me to really get a feel for how to structure my mid-week training for very specific outdoor goals.  And the more I progress, the more I’m realizing that some goals work better together than others.  For instance, I probably could have done a lot better on Goals 2 and 3 had I devoted an entire season for each one, as the training for powerful, technical face climbing is completely different than the training required for steep, overhanging enduro routes.  That approach would have honed a more specific skill set.  On the flip side, however, it could have been more restrictive when it came to finding partners (since we always need an extra person, we often end up simply going where “everyone else” is going, and generally can’t afford to be “picky” about what routes we want to do.)  My guess is that, like most things, there’s a balance in there somewhere.  One of my goals for 2016 will be to find that sweet spot where training specificity and family craggin’ meet in an efficient and fun-filled way.  Look for the tick list next week – and be thinking of your own to share as well!

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[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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Sendless at Endless

Catchy title, but will probably make for a rather lackluster trip report!  Conditions were prime for sending…I guess my only excuse is myself!  Fortunately, however, our weekend in West Virginia was still “wild and wonderful.”

CragDaddy tackling Jesus and Tequila 12b...more on that below

CragDaddy tackling Jesus and Tequila 12b…more on that below

Saturday was spent at Snake Buttress.  After warming up on Muckraker 11a, I had hoped to tick New World Order 12a, which I had started working on a few weeks ago.  To be honest, heading into the weekend I’d been feeling less than confident, and with questionable motivation.

These guys are perpetually psyched...even at 6am on a Saturday morning.

These guys are perpetually psyched…even at 6am on a Saturday morning.

The crux for me on New World Order is a big deadpoint move that requires (for me, anyway) a LOT of precision and coordination.  Even executed correctly it’s somewhat of a low percentage move.  These types of projects (ie low percentage cruxes) can get frustrating very easily because it’s hard to predict how close you are to sending.  When it finally goes, the movement often feels exactly the same as it did every other time you tried…only that particular time you lucked up and didn’t get spit off.

So even though I had the moves worked out pretty well, the odds that all the stars would align when I was on point seemed 50/50 at best.  Not to mention I’ve been pretty distracted lately.  Baby Zu continues to be a twinkly, charming little toddler by day (or most days, anyway), and a possessed, screaming banshee by night (well, most nights, anyway.)  My workouts at the gym have been relatively mediocre, and motivation to try hard has been hit or miss, especially with the holidays (aka our “off season“) approaching in just a couple of weeks.  Add to all of that a random redness/irritation in my eye that cropped up the night before we left and ended up getting far worse before getting better, and it would be safe to say that perhaps the force was NOT with me on Saturday.  I found myself in a sort of strange and contradictory mental space, where I was more looking forward to the route being checked off than I was about the actual process of putting in time to work the route.

This guy's highlight of every Endless Wall day...the ladders!

This guy’s highlight of every Endless Wall day…the ladders!

So with all that said, you can imagine that I was thrilled with my first attempt of the day being a fairly quick one-hang.  I fell at the predicted spot twice before nailing the jug – the first time coming up too short, and the second time actually over-shooting the hold.  I felt that little flutter in my chest that happens in that magical moment when you first realize that a project is within reach.

Big brother isn't the only one who has fun on the ladders

Big brother isn’t the only one who has fun on the ladders

I felt pretty good about my chances next go.  But right off the bat I screwed up the opening bouldering problem.  I managed to stay on, but expended a lot of needless energy.  I shook out really well, moved up to the next clip, then promptly punted off in a random spot that I’d never had any trouble with before, thanks to a missed foothold.  Dangit.  I worked through that section and up through the crux (it took me 4 tries this time), and then lowered, since I had the top pretty well dialed.

That’s all right, 3rd times a charm, right?  Wrong.  My next go it was that d#$% boulder problem right off the ground that was giving me fits.  Eventually I figured out some heel hook beta (courtesy of the CragDaddy) that made the move significantly easier…but by then it was too little too late, and I once again punted off before I even made it to my crux.  Geez.  I wasn’t necessarily expecting to send, but I certainly didn’t expect to regress as the day went on. In hindsight I think the fact that I was climbing in my glasses for the first time ever (thanks to the weird eye thing) may have been playing with my depth perception a bit, considering that I am literally blind without corrective eye wear and therefore have zero peripheral vision with glasses.  But that was certainly not the only problem, and at the end of the day there was nothing left to do, except nurse my bruised ego with family and friends over a margarita.

A little Star Wars fun at the crag

A little Star Wars fun at the crag

Sunday was another gorgeous fall day – after all the rain we’ve had, the sun felt amazing!  We were back at Endless, but this time hiked in through the Fern Point side.  We warmed up on Euronation 11c before heading over to Jesus and Tequila 12b, which is arguable THE 12b in the Gorge to tick.  I’d toproped it once before when a friend of mine was working on it – I don’t remember a ton about it, but I do know the crux took a lot of work, and I was unable to do the final roof move without some belayer assistance.

There are a few pretty heady sections.  That, as well as my wishy-washy attitude about trying hard, prompted me to opt for the casual toprope once the rope was hanging.  But then I started climbing. THIS ROUTE IS AWESOME!  My lazy demeanor was slapped awake and my mind overflowed with adrenalized psych.  All of a sudden I found myself more motivated than I’d been in a really long time.  The movement is fun and unique, the position is amazing, and most encouraging of all, I did all the moves relatively easily.  After only falling once on my 2nd burn (at the crux), I’d love to think that a send will come soon…But I also am aware that this route is notorious for taking forever to send, as the real crux is not the individual moves, but linking all of them together (as well as a really tough clip) on point.

I wasn't the only one who struggled with motivation at times this weekend...

I wasn’t the only one who struggled with motivation at times this weekend…

That being said, I feel close enough to warrant another trip before our NRG season is done til spring.  Hopefully it’ll go. But if it doesn’t, it’ll be waiting for me in the spring.  (And it’ll be worth the wait.)  And as for New World Order?  It looks like it’s gonna have to be put on the backburner til spring…it’ll feel good to have at least one route “in the hopper” next March!

Related Images:

[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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