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The Ruchert Motion 5.13a – Grand Finale at the NRG

This fall has featured some pretty goofy weather conditions.  October was hot, November was wet, and December is…perfect?!?  Our NRG season typically wraps up before Thanksgiving.  After that, the days are so short, with frigid mornings and evenings, and nighttime temps that drop below our enjoyable-camping-with-kids threshold.  It’s also not uncommon to contend with snow, so even a stray warm day can end up wet.  Not to mention the holidays are coming, and we want to focus on that!  But Thanksgiving  weekend brought fantastic weather we couldn’t pass up…and we both put good work in on The Ruchert Motion 13a.  And when we saw that the forecast was just as good for the following weekend, we had to go back and bring our try hard.

The press out move…thankful for every inch!

But the kink in our plans was poor CragDaddy, who rolled his ankle punting off a gym boulder problem just one move away from sending a sick new V13 in our backyard no one knows about and never will because it imploded back into earth upon CragDaddy’s impact. 😉 Thankfully the “incident” turned out to be just a minor sprain, and by the time the weekend rolled around, he was pain-free with just an annoying amount of swelling.  He could toprope all day long…but going “a muerte” on his project still didn’t seem wise.  So unfortunately for him (but very much appreciated by me), the only things he was able to bring to this NRG double bonus weekend were superior belay skills, encouraging pep talks, and camera management skills.   Actually, before you feel too sorry for him, he DID manage to sneak in some try hard on his toprope burns, and I’m confident that he’ll be ready for Ruchert Motion next spring.

But all joking aside, I am very grateful that CragDaddy was still up for making a trip that was undoubtedly more fun for me than it was for him.  I definitely owe him some “support services” time back out there this spring.  

And thankfully, I made it worth his while.  It took 4 go’s, but I finally put it down at the end of Day 1.  My confidence was a rollercoaster all day.  The first burn was a warm-up, and I yarded through all the hard moves – the opening move, a tipped out move in the middle that is hard on my wrist, and the entire crux.  There’s another kinda hard sequence after the crux but it’s not tweaky, so I went for it but came up a little short and took a fall on an extended right shoulder that did not feel great.  It hurt for a few minutes but then seemed fine (and left me thankful that I’ve been doing all those little stabilizing exercises on the regular!)  Once I clipped the chains, my fingers were a lot warmer and I rehearsed all the hard moves as I lowered.  

My favorite kidcrushers.

My 2nd burn felt awesome.  I made it all the way to the crux without too much difficulty. Things were actually going so well that I unknowingly got my left foot up higher than I had been, which threw off my balance at the end of the crux, and my right hand slipped off a split second before I could move it to the next hold.  After a quick hang, I finished it up, and lowered off feeling very optimistic.

But my 3rd go I didn’t even make it to the crux.  I fell in the reachy 11+ section on the move that is hard on my wrist.  This particular move has me completely pressed out to my fingertips, then making a desperate pop to a jug.  I played around with some different beta, and found a sequence that was a little higher percentage.  The only down side to the new beta was that it was harder on the skin, which at this point, was at a premium thanks to that sharp little hold I dry fired off of on my previous burn.  Rather than exfoliating my finger tip any more by trying the crux on a non-send burn, I opted to just come down rather than rehearse it again, since splitting a tip would mean game over for the day.  Confidence plummeted.  

Big C in action.

4th go.  The opening move, the one that thwarted me all but twice last weekend, continued to go well.  I winced as I cranked out the new beta for the press out move, but was relieved when I glanced down at my finger tip and didn’t see any blood.  There’s a great rest stance after that, and I stayed there a good long while.  I moved through the next moves smoothly, made the clip, and entered the crux traverse.  The holds are heinously small, so I went as quickly as I could.  I was red-lining as I got my feet up to make the big exit move to the jug, but I held on for all I was worth and stuck the hold!  

Exiting the crux

All that was left between me and the last 20 feet of 5.10 land was the kinda hard traverse I’d fell at the end of on my warm-up.  The move getting into this traverse is never smooth for me.  The holds are an easy reach for CragDaddy, but it’s very awkward for me to get both hands established on the traverse holds, so I have to smear my foot on a very slippery hold and do a weird move that we christened the “donkey kick.”  Every time I do it, I’m afraid that foot is going to blow off, but it never did…until this time!  Luckily, it was just after both hands were on, so I managed to hang on.

The only other issue came in 5.10 land when I thought CragDaddy was short roping me, but it turned out to be my tail knot stuck in the bottom biner of the quickdraw.  ?!?  Never had that happen, never heard of it happening, but thankfully it was an easy fix. 

And…woohoo!  A perfect end to a fabulous fall climbing season!  Actually to be accurate, it wasn’t quite the end yet.  We climbed the next day too – CragKiddo got a chance to crush at the Meadow, and I got a chance for revenge on Stretch Armstrong 12a, the route I’d chickened out on the previous week.  CragDaddy looked longingly at Team Machine 12a, the route he’d “toprope sent” the previous week, but decided not to risk a lead fall, especially on that particular line, as its scary even with two good feet.

It’s pretty difficult to get good pictures when it’s just us and the kids, but CragDaddy did manage to set our camera up in a nearby tree to get some video footage.  Full disclosure, it’s not great – in order to get the whole route we had to shoot vertically.  And I climb painfully slow so it’s not exciting at all.  But it at least captures the moves and rad-ness of the line.  The zoomed in crux shots were taken on the sending go, but the rest of the footage is from other burns throughout the day.  We put it to music to make it less boring and also drown out the kids talking a little bit.  If you’d like to check it out, go here.  (And please excuse the try hard sounds on the opening move…)

I hope everyone had a great climbing season, and since it’ll probably be pretty quiet on the blog around here until after the new year, I’d like to wish everyone a very happy holiday season!  See you in 2018 and thanks for reading! 🙂

 

 

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NRG at Thanksgiving

Did your post-Thanksgiving plans include shop til you drop or #optoutside?  As you might have guessed, ours involved the latter.  The forecast was beautiful for the early part of last weekend, so we squeezed in a quick visit to our favorite east coast climbing destination for a half day Friday and full day Saturday.  

Reachy 11+ section on Ruchert Motion 13a

All we had time for on Friday afternoon was a couple of pitches each at Bridge Buttress, and despite our best efforts, we just couldn’t pull anything together.  I tackled an old nemesis of mine – Stretch Armstrong 12a, while CragDaddy tried his hand at Team Machine, also 12a.  I’d been on Stretch before a handful of times, but never felt close to sending it.  The route is very appropriately named, and my crazy beta was far too desperate to link on point.  This time however, I was able to work out a slightly different sequence that felt a lot more doable.  It was very committing, and felt every bit of 12b/c, but it seemed like it would work.  Unfortunately, when my turn was up again, I just couldn’t get the job done.  The kids started arguing, the sun never quite came around so my hands got really cold, one kid started crying, I wasted a lot of energy trying to remember a sequence down low, other kid starts crying, and so on and so forth.  By the time I got to the crux, my head was far too distracted to commit to the moves.  I hung, then did the moves first try.  Ugh.  

The 1st world problem woes continued with CragDaddy’s turn on Team Machine.  Due to fading light, cranky kids, and several scary sections, he opted to toprope rather than lead it.  The crux had taken him forever on round 1, and he figured it was still so low percentage he might as well toprope it…but of course he did it clean, earning him the dreaded “toprope-send.”  Womp womp.  

CragDaddy, aka “toprope toughguy”

But despite the fruitlessness of our Friday endeavors, everyone woke up Saturday in good spirits, ready for the main event.  For over a year, we’d been eyeing The Ruchert Motion 13a out at Beauty Mountain.  With newfound confidence from our last couple of trips to Hidden Valley, I was ready to give it a whirl.  Conditions were darn near perfect – low 40’s in the morning, low 50’s by afternoon, plenty of sun at the base of the cliff for the kids to “bask” in.  (During the morning hours, they laid around on the rocks pretending to be king cobras waking up from hibernation.)  

My first run, however, was far from perfect, and I was actually pretty discouraged.  In hindsight, it probably would have made more sense to warm-up on something else first, but psych was high so we jumped right in, knowing it would take us a while to get the draws in. The Mountain Project entry describing the first few bolts as “reachy 11+” also played heavily into our decision to skip a proper warm-up…but that description proved to be wildly inaccurate, at least for CragDaddy and me.  

You know, just bassssking around at the crag.

After flailing around for about 15 minutes, I skipped the opening moves and THEN climbed through a couple of bolts worth of what I could see described as reachy 11+.  Then came the crux, and my first attempts were dismal.  I stick-clipped my way through, then flailed through the next sequence that, while easier than the crux, was still pretty hard.  The last 20 feet was really fun 5.10 climbing (the kind that makes for a great, actual warm-up), but by the time I got to the top I was more exhausted than warmed up, and lowered straight down without trying any of the moves again.  

CragDaddy’s experience was similar, and when he got down, we took a nice long break to eat leftover pizza and “bask” with our King Cobra children.  The kids then moved to a different game involving catching “crabs” on an island boulder stranded in a sea of leaves, so at CragDaddy’s encouragement, I took the opportunity to have second go on Ruchert.  This run was decidedly better.  I still couldn’t touch the first move, but my fingers were a lot more warmed up by this point, and and I WAS able to do the crux moves. 

Psych.

 

I was feeling very encouraged after my 3rd burn, especially when I actually was able to do the first move when I tried it again on the way down!  My 4th go, however, was the best yet – I only hung in two spots!  (And it should have been just one, but I botched a foot in one of the reachy moves before the crux.)  When I got to the crux I was pretty tired and starting to get a little sloppy with my feet, but I managed to get through it after a few tries, and was then able to shake out enough post-crux to finish the climb clean.  

The weather was forecasted to be drastically colder and cloudier on Sunday, so we headed back home Saturday night.  Judging by how wrecked my arms felt when I tried to rake leaves the next day, it was the best decision!  But that said…it feels awesome to have something “in the hopper” at the New again!  So many times I feel like I have such a love/hate relationship with the New because of all the times I get shut down on long moves.  But this one is gonna go down!  And hopefully sooner rather than later! Fingers crossed for this weekend, because if it doesn’t go down Saturday or Sunday, I’m gonna have to wait til spring!  

 

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Tenaya Mundaka: First Look, First Ascent

My latest climbing project—a 5.14 wall of thin edges that gently steepens into a cresting wave of granite at Devil’s Head, CO—presented me with a significant dilemma.  The climbing is 80% Smith Rock, precise edging on micro-chips with your hips plastered to the face and most of your weight on your feet, followed by 20% Rifle, gymnastic moves on steep rock with feet toeing in and hooking on glassy features.

I began the campaign in my trusty Tenaya Intis.  These are the ideal edging implement, with a stiff and precise forefoot that excels on credit card chips.  I was crushing the lower sections, routinely climbing up to the lip of the steep wall, but struggling to make progress on the wildly dynamic exit.  I decided to switch to Tenaya Oasi’s, my go-to shoe for gym-style climbing, where sensitivity and flexibility facilitate monkey-style pulling with your feet.

My progress in the steeps improved instantly, but it came at a price.  Though I could still climb through the technical start in Oasi’s, I had to pull a bit hard with my hands, compounding the wear on my already heavily-worn finger skin. I needed a shoe that could excel on both types of terrain—technical thin walls and gymnastic overhangs.

At that pivotal moment I had the opportunity to test-drive Tenaya’s ground-breaking Mundaka.  It was just the shoe I was looking for.  The Mundaka is perhaps best described as a sock with rubber on it, although that’s not doing it justice.  The toe box is tight and stiff—ideal for thin edging.  Yet the rubber sole ends at the forefoot, creating a nearly-bare arch that is completely flexible (you can easily bend the shoe in half at the arch).  This enables tremendous toeing power on steep incuts, allowing the climber to wrap the fore foot around features and pull with your feet.  It’s almost like getting an extra pair of arms delivered in a 12” cardboard box!  Throw in a perfectly sculpted heel cup and it’s got everything a serious climber could ask for.

When I slipped the Mundakas on for the first time at the base of my project, I joked about how tightly the shoes formed to my feet, promising my toes would only tolerate a brief burn.  Yet amazingly I climbed happily for well over an hour.  The Mundakas are so well-shaped, pain was never an issue, and if anything, the shoes became more comfortable and sensitive the longer I climbed.  Also worth noting is the vastly improved Velcro tabs at the end of the adjustable closure system (similar to that of the roundly lauded Tenaya Iati closure system).  The new tabs offer so much sticking power I had trouble removing them as I lowered off the route.  There is zero chance of these coming un-stuck mid climb!

My new footwear gave me the confidence and peace of mind to focus on my climbing.  In a few more tries I finally stuck the burly dyno to the lip, mantled onto the lime green lichen-covered slab and waltzed up to the summit, finally completing the first ascent of Walk Tall Or Not At All, the hardest route at Devil’s Head at 5.14c.

It’s hard compare Mundakas to anything else I’ve climbed in.  Most shoes excel in one aspect and fall flat in another.  Not the Mundaka.  These shoes easily matched the performance of my best edging shoes and far exceeded the toeing/hooking power of my best gym shoe.  They will definitely be my new go to shoe!

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.

Related Images:

[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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Video: Drew Ruana Establishes 14d at Smith Rock

On February 13, 2016, Drew Ruana made the first ascent of “Assassin” (14d). “Assassin” toppled the classic “Just Do It” (14c) and the unrepeated “Shock and Awe” (14c) as the toughest route at Smith Rock. The first ascent of the Aggro Gully linkup pushed Smith Rock’s highest grade upward for the first time in 13 years (the FA of “Shock and Awe” – still unrepeated).

Drew Ruana on the First Ascent of Assassin

Drew Ruana on the first ascent of Assassin (14d), Smith Rock’s hardest route.

Here’s a quick route synopsis and send footage from Drew:

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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A Red River Gorge Sending Spree!!!

“Some weekends everything falls together and you send.  Other times you work your ass off and walk away empty-handed.  But those “work” weekends are what make the “sending” weekends so magical.”

Those were my words exactly one month ago, after a hard-fought battle with Jesus and Tequila 12b, one of my (many) unsent projects from the New River Gorge last fall.  The “moral” of that post was that investing hard work into a project will EVENTUALLY reap successful dividends, even if you currently have nothing “on paper” to show for it.  That particular weekend was a “work” weekend.  So was the next one, this time on a new project at Hawksbill Mountain.  Both trips sparked a flurry of training in the gym – 4X4’s, roped intervals, core workouts, etc.  All in preparation for one of those “sending” weekends at some point down the road…

Creeping out of the hueco on Mirage 12c

Creeping out of the hueco on Mirage 12c

…which apparently was this past weekend at the Red!  I’m not sure whether it was the training, the SPECTACULAR spring weather conditions, or just a little bit of luck falling in my favor (probably a combination of the 3), but I just enjoyed what was probably one of my strongest climbing weekends ever…and days later I’m still finding my lips poised in a perma-grin.

 Trying to deflate my forearms in the upper hueco on Mirage.

70 feet down, 30 to go! Trying to deflate my forearms in the upper hueco on Mirage.

I drove up to Kentucky with one goal in mind: Galunlati 12b, a route I’d gotten on at the very end of our trip there this past April.  I drove home on Sunday with THREE 5.12 ticks, one of which very well might be the hardest route I’ve ever sent.  Here’s how it all went down:

It's red eft season in the Southeast!

It’s red eft season in the Southeast!

Galunlati 12b:  95 feet of awesomeness.  Tricky, technical crux down low, with a pumpy traverse on crimps halfway up.  No huecos to hop in, but I did find a decent kneebar to rest up before the last 30 feet of 5.10 jugs.  To save time, (at a premium with 4 climbers and two kids), I warmed up by going bolt to bolt…and it did NOT go well, probably because I should NOT be warming up on 5.12.  But I got the draws in and got to rehearse my beta.  Second go the crux felt way easier, but I botched the end of the traverse and fell.  I figured out a better sequence, and my third go was the charm (and send.)

Mirage 12c: 95 feet of even more awesomeness.  I’d wrapped up Galunlati with enough time to do one more route on Day 1, and my friend Bennett had suggested this one.  He’d just sent, and I figured I had nothing to lose since the draws were still up.  The climbing turns on at the 2nd bolt while exiting a big hueco, and does not relent until the 5th bolt.  The moves out of the hueco are precarious and balancy, and the bolt is a lot lower than you’d like it to be, which makes for an exciting combo rather low to the ground.  In fact, my first time up, I actually climbed with the 3rd bolt already clipped so I could work out the moves fear-free.  The next moves are equally tenuous, as well as the next clip.  The crux comes next, between bolts 4 and 5, a deadpoint move to the first decent-sized hold in about 20 feet.  After that, a few more pulls on small, but positive holds leads into a hueco you can lay down in.  The climbing post-hueco is a lot easier – probably no harder than 10a/b, but the angle is still pretty darn steep, and the route keeps going for another 30-40 feet or so.  I was super stoked to get to the top, and very excited to add this one to my tick list for the fall season.

The CragDaddy getting oh-so-close on Abiyoyo 12b

The CragDaddy getting oh-so-close on Abiyoyo 12b

But as luck would have it, our crew ended up back at the Solarium again on Day 2.  Since my “warm up on the project” strategy had been successful the day before, I decided to stick with that.  I struggled on the deadpoint move.  There are a lot of ways to do it, but each seemed ridiculously hard to do when I was pumped, as I most certainly would be on a redpoint run.  I worked the moves for a while until I had to come down out of sheer exhaustion.

A post-dinner hike to the Natural Arch

A post-dinner hike to the Natural Arch

I wasn’t feeling that optimistic for a send on my 2nd go of the day…I knew I could do the moves, but stringing them all together seemed like an impossible feat.  Not to mention that scary clip at bolt 3.  But I tried hard, and actually didn’t fall until the deadpoint move.  I hung, tweaked the beta, and took it to the top.

I waited a good long time before trying it again, cheering on the CragDaddy as he worked Abiyoyo 12b, and sprayed (solicited) beta at our newfound friends from Colorado as they took their turns on Mirage.  When I tied in again, I wasn’t at all confident that I’d even have enough gas to make it to my previous high point.  But before I knew it, I was there…and this time I executed my beta correctly and latched the deadpoint!  I came really close to punting off in the next section, but somehow managed to slide into the hueco with forearms flaming.

I stayed in the hueco until my neck just couldn’t take it anymore…then I moved up into the kneebar to shake out a little more.  The finish was not desperate, but it certainly wasn’t a sure thing.  The pump clock was ticking faster and faster but I just kept moving as fast as I could until both chains were clipped.  YAY!!!!!!!!!!!  An unbelievably amazing (and unexpected!) send for me!

Crossing the creek at Miller Fork.

Crossing the creek at Miller Fork.

On our last day, we decided to check out Miller Fork, a new-ish area that has recently come out with a new guidebook.  It was fun to try a new place, and the routes we got on were good…but the rock quality seemed inconsistent.  The routes we did were all great, but will probably be even better in a few years after more traffic cleans them up a bit.

Weird Science 12a:  This vertical climb was perfect for Day 3 – thin boulder problem down low to moderate climbing.  Very un-Red like (ie, no guns required, just technique), but the neon orange lichen only visible from the top made it worth the effort.

Witness the Citrus 11c:  Also worth mentioning was this monster of a climb.  100+ feet of pure jug haulin’ fun!  Definitely 5 stars!

Climbing can be a very fickle sport.  I’ve learned that having the physical and mental fitness for a certain route is really only a small piece of the puzzle to success.  Sometimes the real crux is having that perfect weather window occur on the days you are actually free to climb, rather than days you are stuck in the office/house/etc.  (And finding someone else that wants to climb at the same area you want to climb at!)  Fortunately for me, all the stars aligned and everything worked in my favor this time.  And with imminent summer heat and humidity on the way, I’m going to savor every minute of this “sending feast” while I still can, knowing the famine is just around the corner!  (And, right on cue, the forecast for THIS Saturday looks pretty dismal…)  😉

Crux moves on Witness the Citrus 11c

Crux moves on Witness the Citrus 11c

Related Images:

[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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