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Category Archives: West Virginia

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

Desperate Egyptian-move beta on Bourbon Sauce 11d

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This Time it’s Endless, Not Sendless…

CragDaddy reaching tall on Gift of Grace 12b Photo: Michael Johnston

Ah, Endless Wall season.  There’s nothing like it.  Endless Wall is definitely my favorite climbing area at the New River Gorge, though on paper I’m not sure why.  From a climber perspective, the grades are stiff, the bolt spacing is spicy, and cruxes require committment from body, mind and soul all at once.  You’d better bring your try hard if you wanna climb here.  From a mama perspective, the hike is long, and giant ladders make for a difficult approach with kids.  You’d better bring your hiking bears if you wanna climb here.

As a family, it’s logistically always been hard for us to get down there as often as we’d like.  It’s not the best place for larger groups, so if we’ve got a large crew, other areas make a lot more sense.  I can think of countless times we’ve had to put projects on hold simply because we couldn’t convince anyone to hike down there with us.  Then there’s the weather conundrum – most of the wall bakes in the sun, so late fall and early spring are really best…when camping can get pretty darn cold for the kiddos.  

All that said, we were pretty psyched to see high’s in the low 60’s on the heels of our flying solo experiment from the week before.  It seemed like the perfect time to go for The Gift of Grace 12b, which would be warmed by the morning sun, but shaded by lunch time.  This proud line follows a striking arete to the top of the cliff and some of the best views of the gorge.  It’s got an intimidating reputation due to some nasty fall potential down low that can be mitigated with a long draw, so we tied in with stick clip at the ready.  CragDaddy stick clipped his way up most the route for his first attempt, and then I toproped.  We extended the draw on the 3rd bolt…I mean REALLY extended it, so that one could clip at a good stance before attempting the first crux.  (A fall during these moves without the extension would risk slamming into the lip of a low roof, your belayer, a slab boulder, or some combination of the three.)  Clipping the extendo-draw takes the risk of any of those scenarios down to pretty much zero…it seemed like a no brainer to us.  

Little Z embarking on a family rite of passage

Once we took care of the scary business, we could start working the route on the sharp end and focus on the moves…which were all HARD!  The climb starts with a burly lip traverse along the roof, to a series of long moves on incut crimps.  The first crux (the one that we neutered the fear factor on) is a very cool sequence on the arete, followed by a well-deserved no hands rest.  A few more crimpy moves, this time on bad feet, leads to another good rest on a blocky section of the arete.  Next comes the redpoint crux – a thin, balancy sequence of crimpy sidepulls culminating with a long move to better holds, with a tenuous clip thrown in the middle for good measure.  The rest of the climbing is probably no harder than 10+, with just enough shake out jugs to make the finish a probable, though not guaranteed, victory lap.  

By the end of the day, CragDaddy and I’d gotten in 3 burns each, both with a last go best go 2 hang.  We hiked out optimistic for a next day send.  However, our family highlight came at the end of the day, watching Little Z join the ranks of those that have scaled the big Honeymooner Ladders of Central Endless.  She was belayed from above by Daddy, and I climbed right below her to spot her if she slipped…and to tell her to slow down every 3 rungs so that Daddy had enough time to pull the rope up.  Surprisingly, the only other person who was more proud of her than herself was her big brother!  He gave her a huge hug at the top, and told her over and over what a good job she did on the hike out.  <3

2 ladders down, 1 to go!

Next day we found ourselves back at Gift of Grace bright and early, and since most everything else was still cold and in the shade, we opted to get down to business straightaway.  Steve still had some beta refining he wanted to do, so he volunteered to hang draws, er, haul the stick clip up.  I wasn’t entirely sure whether I was going to go for it or not on my first burn of the day, but by the time I got through the first crux and made it to the rest I was in send mode.  The next few moves went well, and the upper crux felt the best it’d ever felt.  I was carrying a little more pump than I wanted at the finish, but before I knew it, I was at the chains and taking in that New River Gorgeous view.  After somewhat mediocre performances the past couple of NRG trips, I needed this one, and I must say it felt pretty grand! 

Entering the “bad feet” section. Photo: Michael Johnston

CragDaddy sent in fine style just after lunch, then we hiked over to put up Totally Clips 5.8 for Big C, who was able to do all the moves but the crux, which is pretty reachy when you’re only 4 feet tall.  CragDaddy and our buddy Mike took advantage of having an 80m rope at the ready and climbed Fool Effect 5.9, and I ended my day on Slab-o-Meat 11d, a line I’d never even looked at before but turned out to be really nice (and FYI a great one if you’re breaking into the grade – the hard moves are all between bolts 1 and 3, followed by another 75 feet of fun (and exciting) 5.10 slabbing.  

This coming weekend will mark week number 4 in a row at the New, but this time we will be living the high life in a cabin with CragDaddy’s parents.  Hopefully the weather will be cooperative…but if not, at least we know we won’t be sleeping outside in the rain!  

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[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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(FINALLY!) Back at the NRG

It only took us until the middle of June this year, but we FINALLY made it back up to one of our favorite places in the entire world this past weekend.  All spring it seemed we had one logistical issue after another – weather, partners, schedules, you name it.  The only other time we’ve gone this long without climbing at the New River Gorge was the year Little Zu was born, when we skipped spring/summer up there entirely and waited til fall.  But now all is right in the world.  It may be too little too late when it comes to enjoying “the season” up there, but at least we got one fix in before the summer heat and humidity takes over.  

Narcissus 12a

Considering the hot, sunny forecast, we opted to spend Day 1 at Summersville Lake.  Nothing like a gorgeous water backdrop that you can melt into at the end of the day!  We started our day getting some redemption on an area classic, Satisfaction Guaranteed 11a.  CragDaddy and I had both bailed off this route way back in 2010.  He was 50+ pounds heavier at the time, and I was just 5 months postpartum…but we had no issues with it on Saturday, and now we’re satisfied ;).

Kiddos playing pirates (and “shooting” passing boats with a “driftwood gun.”)

Next was Narcissus 12a.  I’d also been on this one before, back in 2012, though it was a bolt to bolt run that was nowhere close to a legitimate sending attempt.  This route is touted as a must-do for the grade, and after my recent successes on the steeps this spring, I was optmistic that it could go down in a day.  My first run, however, was not as smooth as planned, and I struggled more than I’d wanted to on a couple of sections.  My second run felt great – I was clean all the way up to the last deadpoint move.  

For me the line boils down to 3 hard sections – a long move off crimps, a choice between 2 boulder problems (one going left, one going right…I go right), and a big deadpoint off a small sidepull.  The finish is steep and pumpy, with giant, flat holds that SHOULD be good enough if you can just keep yourself together…but it’s by no means a sure thing, and I know at least one person that has whipped at the chains.  

Kaos 12c

My third go was shaky, potentialy because I tried out some new clipping beta for the 3rd bolt…something just didn’t feel right, and I fell moving into the boulder problem.  In the back of my mind I was thinking I perhaps had missed my “sending window,” but there was still plenty of time left in the day, so I hopped on it again.  I went back to my original clipping beta, and the lower moves flowed a lot better.  When I got to the deadpoint move, I made sure to get my right foot as high as it could go, and tossed for all I was worth…and it was enough!  The finish was uneventful, and I lowered off with a smile on my face, and a right forearm that continued to feel pumped for the next 12 hours.  

The rest of my day was spent in the water with the kiddos, while the rest of our crew finished up the day on the Long Wall.  Big shout out to Little Zu for hiking almost the entire way out of the crag…barefoot.  There were MANY hiking bears involved, but she powered through until the last downhill bit to the parking lot, where I carried her in my arms like a baby, and she went from hiking to sleeping in a matter of 300 feet.  

I’m not sure what’s going on here but it looks fun!

Day 2 dawned equally sunny and a smidge warmer even, so off to Kaymoor we went to find shade.  I hopped on Boing 10d, which is one of my favorites, then moved over to Control 12a.  CragDaddy had already sent Control on a previous trip last spring, so he decided to put in some work on Kaos 12c, and after a few burns, he was able to do all the moves and link the lower section.  I’d taken a couple of burns on Control once before (the same day CragDaddy had sent), so I was hopeful I’d be able to put it all together.  I took a run up to hang draws, and felt even better about my chances.  Then I proceeded to fall at the SAME FREAKIN’ MOVE on the next FOUR redpoint attempts.  Each story was the same – get through the opening bit, crimp hard on the traverse, get feet set for the crux move, lunge…..and fall.  Then hang for a few seconds, pull back on, and fire the move like it was no big deal.  For whatever reason, I just could NOT do that move on point!  

In hindsight, I think the problem can be blamed on “not enough NRG time” lately.  If you’ve been there, you know…the New requires so much more focus than the same grade at pretty much any other sport crag I’ve ever been to.  Each time I fell on Control, my crew and I noticed some sort of subtle nuance of body position that I was doing differently when I was coming in hot, versus trying the move off the hang.  Obviously, when you’re at your limit, every bit of technique helps no matter what crag you’re climbing at…but NRG is the only place where I consistently have to stay focused on so MANY minute details for the ENTIRE climb, as opposed to just one or two moves.  Nothing is a gimme at the New!  That said, I THINK I have the beta dialed down to the letter for next time on Control….that is, if I can get myself psyched to get on it again!  

Control 12a

The thing that I’ve learned about the New River Gorge is that it can be frustratingly unpredictable when it comes to doling out sends.  The day before, my efforts were rewarded on Narcissus.  The next day, not so much, despite putting in what felt like the same, if not MORE effort.  The great thing is that sending or not sending really has zero importance in the grand scheme of life.  😉

And with that said, I’m so thankful for his place, and I’m so glad we got a chance to go back before the heat got too ridiculous.  Hopefully the logistics will work out a little better for us in the fall, and we’ll be able to rack up some back to back trips during prime conditions.  But, until then, you can find us dividing our time between the gym and the pool for the next couple of weeks!  

 

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[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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Sending Spree: Drew Ruana takes on The New

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5.13d
Natural Progression 2nd go

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

5.13b/c
B.C. 2nd go

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

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

Photos by Trevor Blanning

NRG: Flashin’ or Thrashin’

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

The Honeymooner Ladders at Central Endless

The Honeymooner Ladders at Central Endless

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

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

Girl beta...

Girl beta…

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

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

Guy beta...

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

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

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

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

Happy kiddos!

Happy kiddos!

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[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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Jesus and Tequila = SENT!!!

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

Iphone sending shot, courtesy of Rebekah MacNair

Iphone sending shot, courtesy of Rebekah MacNair

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

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

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

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

These two ragamuffins had a great day!

These two ragamuffins had a great day!

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

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

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

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

Little Z and her new friend R.

Little Z and her new friend R.

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

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

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

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

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

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New River Gorge: It’s Fall Ya’ll!

I’m baaaaaaaack!  (In case you haven’t been missing me, this is the longest stretch of blog silence I’ve ever had since the dawning of “Cragmama” back in 2011!)  With weather too hot for climbing, and revving up our homeschooling again for the year, there has been too little to write about in not enough time anyway, so everything just went on the backburner.  But now that Zu (no longer Baby Girl Zu!) is at preschool a couple mornings a week, and fall adventures are upon us (!), I’ve got plenty to write about, and hopefully juuuust enough time to do it.

Going big on Audiophering 12a

Going big on Audiophering 12a

That being said, it felt GREAT to get back to the New River Gorge for Labor Day!  To be honest, the past handful of trips to the New have been lessons in frustration for me.  A couple of them I didn’t even write about because I had a hard time finding a positive spin after getting constantly shut down.  My weakness at the New has ALWAYS been POWER.  The moves are long, often without a lot of features in between, and the higher I go in the grades, the more trouble I have with making reaches.  My natural climbing style is very static, and it’s much more comfortable for me to just lock off hard rather than jump, which doesn’t always work.  But over the summer I decided to try and change that!

The Zu gettin her climb on at Small Wall.

The Zu gettin her climb on at Small Wall.

Rather than going through a periodized cycle of “Base Fitness, Strength, Power, Power Endurance” to get ready for fall, I decided to focus solely on power and dynamic movements all summer.  The typical prescription for training power is a campus board, but I felt like I needed to go back to even more basics than that.  I did movement drills with easy dynos (easy, as in the distance between holds is not far enough to warrant a dyno, but gave me a chance to practice form.) I did a lot of bouldering.  On moderate routes, I tried to do the problems as “big” as I could – skipping holds, never matching, etc.  I also did a lot of what the CragDaddy calls “Try Hard” Bouldering.  While sending outside is always extremely motivating for me, sending indoors is…..not.  My first inclination is to give up after just a few attempts, so the majority of my session tended towards onsighting and repeating other problems I’d previously onsighted fairly easily.

Kiddo Base Camp

Kiddo Base Camp

But the CragDaddy challenged me to really TRY HARD in the gym this past month.   I’ve been projecting problems that don’t come in the first few tries.  I’ve been getting creative with finding my own beta when the intended way doesn’t work for me.  I’ve been re-sending problems that I’ve previously projected, even though sometimes they feel just as hard subsequent times.  And you guys…I think it worked!!!

Our first day was spent at Area 51 of the Meadow.  We climbed with two other families, and between the 6 adults, there were 5 kids running around, ranging in age from 12 months to 6 years.  It was chaos and it was awesome.  The kids had a blast together, and the 3 littlest ones even managed to take their naps ALL AT THE SAME TIME.  I got to climb with some strong women, and I even got to trade belays with the CragDaddy, which hardly ever happens!  To top it all off, I flashed Safety Word 12a (first ever 5.12 flash at the New!)

My budding herpetologist.

My budding herpetologist.

On Day 2 I only got in half the pitches from the day before, but they were twice as long (and a lot more sustained).  Combined with the long hike out to Fantasy Wall at Endless, I was pretty zonked by the end of the day.  However, I did manage to resend Aesthetica 5.11c (not an ideal warm-up…but all the easier routes were mobbed.)  I also got in two really good working burns on Blackhappy 12b.  This is my new favorite climb.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s second only to Jesus and Tequila for “Best 5.12 at the New.”  I went bolt to bolt the first go round, and managed a 3-hang on my second go.  What I was most pleased to see was that I had no trouble with any one move, which is a rarity for me at the New, especially since the book describes this one has having “full-span reaches.”  I’m optimistic that with a few weeks of weekend trips and mid-week 4×4’s I’ll be in good shape to send it later on this fall.

Our last day was spent at Cotton Top…along with what seemed like everyone still left in the gorge.  It was a madhouse.  After a quick lap up Cottonhead 10d, I got in line for Psychowrangler 12a, and was happy to make the first hard move on the first try, which has never happened before.  I came down after a few falls trying to get into the dihedral.  I hate taking a long time on routes when there are a ton of people behind me waiting their turn to climb.  The CragDaddy felt the same way, so we moved on to Audiophering 12a, a lesser-known route on the main wall that never gets any traffic…although after getting on it, I’m not sure why, as the moves are cool and the rock is bulletproof!

Big C slabbing (not crack climbing...) his way up Doce Do 5.6

Big C slabbing (not crack climbing…) his way up Doce Do 5.6

I wasn’t super confident heading into this one, as the guidebook mentions a “jump move” for shorties.  But as the CragDaddy pointed out, it fit well with my m.o of late, and would be a good way to put my training to the test.  It took a while to get my beta dialed in, but I pulled the rope, and sent 2nd go!  And FYI, if you’re thinking of getting on it, don’t let the “jump move” scare you away.  It’s a solid deadpoint for sure, but while I “felt” like I was jumping, one foot still stayed on…barely.

CragDaddy showing off some flexibility on Audiophering 12a

CragDaddy showing off some flexibility on Audiophering 12a

With all the bouldering I’d been doing before this trip (and all the roped climbing I’d been NOT doing), I hadn’t come into the weekend with a lot of sending expectations.  So to walk away with a pair of 12’s and another one in the works felt awesome.  But what felt best of all is that I can tell my power and “try hard” training has been working.  Almost every one of the routes I got on this weekend (even some of the easier ones), had individual moves that potentially would have given me fits earlier this year.  But all the movement drills and limit bouldering has really upped my confidence on bigger, more powerful crux sequences.  Regardless of what projects go down this fall, I’m looking forward to a renewed confidence in my NRG climbing as a whole.  It feels good to be “able to play.”

Oh…and sorry about the lack of pictures.  The camera only came out once while the grown-ups were climbing.  But we at least got some kidcrusher documentation!  Happy Fall, ya’ll!

 

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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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The Blessings of Jesus and Tequila

A lot of people tout that Jesus and Tequila 12b (aka “J ‘n T”) is the best 5.12 in the New River Gorge (and I wouldn’t disagree.)  Some people even argue that it’s the best route in the Gorge, period. I’ve even heard more than one person say it is the best route they have EVER touched.

Well, with that introduction, you know it’s not gonna be a gimme for the grade, right? While grades are of course highly subjective, J ‘n T has a pretty solid consensus that 12b is a big fat sandbag (unless you are my one friend that downgrades everything ;))  12c gets tossed around a lot, and I’ve even  heard 12c/d.  I can’t really weigh in that much, as I don’t have enough mileage at the 12c level to compare, and honestly I don’t really care.  Regardless of grade, it’s exposure, position, rock quality, movement, and overall “badassity” make it a worthy tick for any climber.
DSC06717

And for me personally it feels far more doable than a lot of other 12b’s I’ve tried, but that probably comes down to the style of climbing.  There are multiple cruxes, but individually none are insanely hard.  It’s the New, so there are of course some long reaches, but they are set up well for shorter climbers (and if anything, the high feet required for some of the moves might actually favor the vertically challenged.)

Although it’s been on my radar ever since I toproped it once a couple of years ago, my recent obsession with J ‘n T actually only began a week and a half ago. After unsuccessfully trying to tick New World Order 12a, I took a few toprope burns on it while my friend was working it.  It was pretty intimidating (hence the toprope), but darned if it didn’t feel like it might go…and soon!  And with that, what was supposed to be our last NRG trip of the season turned into our second to last, and just 6 days later I found myself standing atop the giant boulder at the base of the route once more.

DSC06719

I warmed up by going bolt to bolt.  It did not go well.  The rock was really cold, and the opening moves felt really slippery.  The crux felt scary, and I had a lot of trouble committing to the move.  But eventually I got to the chains.  Considering that performance, I didn’t have my hopes set extremely high for my next go – I would have been happy to get a 1 or a 2 hang out of it.

But you guys! (or ya’ll, if you’ll indulge my southern roots.)  I almost sent it.  I SHOULD have sent it.  (And actually, if the original anchors would have still been in place, I WOULD have sent it.)  It wasn’t pretty.  The first half went well, but i struggled with the heady 5th clip (next time longer draw!), and completely botched my beta for the crux.  I still have no idea how I managed to hang on.  The very next move almost spit me off as well, and the deadpoint up high was not a sure thing.  But miraculously I found myself stemming precariously under the final roof. I took some deep breaths and visualized the final sequence, which involves tiptoe-ing out across a wildly exposed face 80 feet off the deck, grabbing a pair of terrible sloping crimps, and lunging for a pretty good sidepull.  I DID IT!

All that was left was for me to get an awkwardly high left foot onto a point and rock up to a standing position, and the send would be mine.  Now the problem with that foot is that my body is so extended on those terrible sloping holds that I can only lift my foot so high before my butt is too far away from the wall and I lose purchase with my hands.  Going bolt to bolt I’ve always been able to do it, but barely.  However, any time I’ve come in even the slightest bit tired, I’ve had to smear my foot on a lower, much worse hold, then slide it over real quick once my momentum starts moving upward.  It’s more insecure, but it’s always worked…until this time.

I tried at first to get the left foot in the “right” spot.  One, twice, three times.  My toes were scuffing just left of where I needed to be, and I was starting to get pumped.  I needed to retreat back to the dihedral where I could stem and regroup at a no hands stance, but now that my left hand was up above the roof, I couldn’t reverse the move.  The clock was ticking, so I put my foot on the consolation smear and committed my weight to it.  And I slipped off.  Less than 10 feet away from the anchors, after having done every single hard move but one, I slipped off.  I was THERE…and yet I found myself dangling helplessly below the roof, looking up at that blasted foothold that had thwarted my send.

After taking a moment to collect myself, I jugged back up, finishing the route easily in a very awkwardly anti-climactic way.

“That was a great burn, I’m proud of you for going ‘a muerte’” one of my friends said (the same one that downgrades everything.)

At least one of us was psyched about waking up to snow the next morning.

At least one of us was psyched about waking up to snow the next morning.

He was right.  It WAS a great burn, far better than my expectations.  And I WAS proud of myself.  And since we still had a few more hours of daylight I was optimistic that I’d be able to get redemption before the day was out, but on my next attempt I fell at the crux…and by the time I got on it a 4th time I was too exhausted to even get to the crux clean.  The next day featured sub-freezing temps, gray skies, and even some snow flurries, so after exploring around under the bridge, we called it an early day and headed home.

But hey, at least I’m in good company.  The description in the guidebook reads like this:  “Getting pummeled on Jesus and Tequila is a rite of passage for every New River climber…the route used to finish at a station under the final roof, but Jonny Woodward moved it to the top, adding one more insecure crux that has foiled many redpoint efforts.”  

In a lot of ways, my performance on Jesus and Tequila pretty much sums up my fall climbing season.  I came back from Ten Sleep with psych that was out the roof, ready to take my east coast game to the next level.  But while I’ve nabbed a few good sends here and there, I feel like I’ve mostly had a lot of almost-sending-but-not-quite-putting-it-all-together moments, which had left me feeling frustrated at climbing, especially at the New.  (#firstworldproblems I know, just trying to be authentic here!)

But all that said, my almost-send of Jesus and Tequila has ended my NRG season on an ironically positive note that makes the entire season feel worthwhile.  I put in a lot of work on routes that have pushed me out of my comfort zone as well as taught me a lot.  Techman, for example, forced me to get creative to maximize my reach, whereas New World Order improved my coordination and agility skills.  Jesus and Tequila boosted my confidence and brought back some of the fight and determination to my climbing that I hadn’t even realized was missing.  And the most encouraging part?  Those routes will still be there 4 months from now, primed and ready to be ticked.  It’s gonna be a fun spring!  But for now, it’s time to get fat and happy with the fam over the holidays.  Happy Turkey Day everyone!

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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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