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An Addendum to the Spring Sum-Up

Entering the crux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burly start

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

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

 

 

 

Related Images:

[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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Gettin’ Sendy on Green Envy

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

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

Hangin’ around on Yowsah 12a

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

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

Spring rains keeping approaches exciting!

 

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

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

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

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

Hitting the jug slot after the runout.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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Breaking the 5.13 Barrier!

Rodent’s Lament 13b (although pic was taken last spring by Nick Hitchcock)

This past weekend I hit a huge personal milestone for me.  Though my climbing journey has more or less featured slow and steady improvement over the last decade (“more” during times of focused training, “less” during times of pregnancy/newborns), it has been FIVE WHOLE YEARS since I have broken into a new number grade.  But that all changed this weekend! 

It actually started this past spring on our kid-free anniversary weekend at Hidden Valley, VA.  We had decided that sans kids was the perfect opportunity to test out the hardman(woman) waters, so we went project shopping.  I was drawn to Rodent’s Lament 13b, a line on the Falcon Wall, home of everything technical and vertical…aka my favorite wall at Hidden Valley.  The crux was pretty short-lived and really boils down to one singularly desperate move  – a long launch to a good slot off a terrible sloper crimp (aka “slimper.”)  I could barely initiate the movement before popping off, and I walked away inspired to include hangboarding in my summer training regimen.  

Hangboard I did, but to be honest, I hadn’t given Rodent’s Lament very much thought again until recently.  Conditions took forever to get good this fall, then when they did, we spent a lot of time at the New.  When we did end up at Hidden Valley we were side tracked by the bounty of other awesome lines that are all a much shorter hike than the Falcon Wall (first world problems, right?!?)  CragDaddy, meanwhile, had slowly but steadily been putting in work on his project out at the Crazy Horse Wall (the 13a slab start of the 5.10 classic Spurs), and he was pushing for us to each have a project day.

Not a bad view from the clifftop!

I was “cautiously cool’ with the idea.  Three weekends ago my psych was out the roof after sending Coneheads 12c…but since then we’d had a gym weekend at home, and then I’d gone on a girl’s weekend that had involved far more eating and drinking than it did exercise.  I had no idea what to expect performance-wise.  But what harm could it do, right?  

If you’ve never tried s’mores with your leftover Halloween candy, you’re missing out!

My first attempt started out great – the initial V4ish crux felt a lot easier than I’d remembered.  But the one (and a half) move wonder crux still felt ridiculously hard.  I probably tried the move 5 different ways 50 different times, but nothing.  Not even really close.  I decided to pull through and take it to the top just to give my fingers a break, then practice some more on the way down.  The upper bit is easier but more sustained, with a long sequence directly after the crux that probably goes around 11d/12a.  That part went really well, so when I lowered back down, I decided to battle with the crux one more time 30 more times before giving up.

This time, however, I actually started making progress, first getting my fingertips even with the slot, then in it just a little, then a little more, until finally, I was able to hang on.  Shocked at this surprising new development, I started trying the sequence from a few moves earlier, coming in from the not-quite-hands-free rest 3 moves before.  It was hard…really hard…but I could do it!  Feeling good about both the start and finish of the climb, I now knew that if I could juuuust make that move once, I’d be able to send!  

All smiles on Pony 5.8

I was ecstatic that my next go was a one hang.  Even more exciting was that when I tied in for a final attempt, conditions were the best we’d seen all day.  No more cold mist, just fading light and dry, crisp air.  And apparently that’s all it took!  The crux felt the smoothest it had felt all day, and despite an adrenaline-induced elvis leg that started kicking in post-crux, I managed to keep my breathing under control and made it to the chains!

An interesting clipping stance…

We celebrated Saturday night with an epic campfire and Halloween candy s’mores, then went out for CragDaddy’s project the next day.  He made decent progress before splitting a hole in his fingertip – while there’s still one move he can’t do down low, he’s now got the upper slab dyno on lock down.  (Ironically I found a great sequence that worked pretty well for me on the lower moves, but I got nothing for the slab dyno…if only I could tag him in and we could go for a team send!!!)  Day 2 was also a great day for Big C – he got in 4 pitches, with 2 of those even being “mock leads.”  (He’s been dying to learn how to lead climb, so we allowed him to tie in to the other side of the rope so he could practice hanging quickdraws and clipping in while still safely attached to a toprope belay.)

I am of course ecstatic to break a new number barrier!  I’m also, if I’m being honest, wondering if the route is a little soft.  In many ways, while none of the individual moves compared to the crux on Rodent’s Lament, something like Coneheads seemed harder to actually link together for a send.  That’s why one-move wonders are so hard to grade, because there’s hardly any “putting it all together” work that needs to be done – basically once you can do the move, you can do the route!  (And this particular move on this particular route suited my skill set and height perfectly)

But soft or not, I’m going to (re)take the advice that an old climbing mentor gave me a long time ago when I was first breaking into 5.12’s and down grading them all simply because “if I could do it, it couldn’t be that hard.”  He gave me some wise words that I’ve since passed his along to many people – “TAKE THE GRADE GIVEN IN THE GUIDEBOOK AND CALL IT DONE!”  His point was that grades are completely subjective, and that one person’s “softie” is another person’s “sandbag”, and that it all evens out in the end anyway.  Don’t downplay a route simply because it potentially plays well to your strengths, and don’t automatically assume a route is underrated just because it feels hard to you.  

So there you have it – a 5.13 for me, and some words of wisdom about not going crazy analyzing grades, all wrapped up into one post.  Because despite how much we all love to debate climbing grades with fellow climbers (don’t act like you don’t!), at the end of the day it’s all just a bunch of arbitrary numbers.  But that said…5.13 is pretty rad! 😉

Related Images:

[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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Hidden Valley Sendage

Lately the Southeast has felt more like “June-tober” than “Rock-tober,” much to the chagrin of every climber that I know.  What’s up with this?!?  This is supposed to be our prime time, with conditions cool and crisp…but instead we all feel like gorillas in the mist.  That said, we knew that the elevation at Hidden Valley would make for cool(er) temps than the surrounding areas, and considering we’ve spent the past four weekends at the New, we figured we could use a change of pace.  And it turned out to be awesome!

“I’m off!” Photo: Jaron Moss

Our plan for Day 1 was for CragDaddy to get a little bit of revenge on Blues Brothers 12a, a route that should’ve gone for him back in August, when he got some awesome photos thanks to Bryan Miller at Fixed Line Media, but unfortunately no send.  However, worthy lines are always worth coming back too, so I was happy to oblige CragDaddy, especially since I was interested in a route that shared the same starting crack – Coneheads #2 12c.  I didn’t really expect 12c to go for me in just one day, so when CragDaddy also walked away empty handed after the first day, it was pretty easy for us to talk ourselves into another Round at the Saturday Night Live wall for Day 2.  And guess what – we both sent!  CragDaddy on his very first attempt of the day (even hanging draws!), and me on my 3rd and final attempt of the day.  

Dinner with these three goofballs back at camp.

This send meant a lot more to me than most – while not my first of the grade, it’s been almost a year and a half since I’ve sent 12c.  And as I look back at the (small) handful of 12c ticks to my name, I think this one is on the harder end of that spectrum.  

I was interested in Coneheads for a couple of reasons.  First of all, thanks to Blues Brothers I knew I could do the start.  Secondly, I knew a female friend of mine was working it, and I’m always more inspired to get on stuff other ladies are doing.  Part of it is a girl power comraderie thing.  It’s also encouraging to know that a route goes for someone that doesn’t have a 7 foot wingspan…

Anyway, Coneheads is an awesome line, and it taught me a lot about the process of redpointing.  The line boasts a little bit of everything – a technical crack with a little bit of burl to it, a weird block move, some juggy overhang, some powerful, bouldery overhang, and a loooooong, exciting crux sequence to the chains on some of the funkiest crimp features I’ve ever seen.  Seriously, one of the key holds was a “thumbercling” using a quartz crystal that looked just like a cigarette had been glued to the wall.  

Enjoying the jugs while I can…

After my first burn I felt so trashed (even on toprope!) that I almost took it down.  Thanks to the encouragement of my crew, I pulled the rope and gave it another go, this time on the sharp end.  I have found that many times the most accurate gauge of “how close” you are on a route comes from the second go, as opposed to the first.  On the first burn, advantage always goes to the rock, because the climber is more or less coming in blind.  But on the second attempt, the playing field is a little more level, and you can get a better assessment of how you stack up against the rock now that you know what to expect – what the moves are like, what the falls are like, where the crux is, where the rests are, what the clipping stances are like, etc.  By the end of the day, I was delighted to have this route down to a two-hang, and to be able to link the entire 10 move crux sequence after a hang.  

On every subsequent burn until the send go (so attempts 2-5), I made subtle but significant changes to my beta to make it flow more efficiently.  The final move of the crux became much more doable while carrying a pump with the addition of 2 intermediate holds.  The bouldery, overhanging section just before the crux was made more efficient by using a different hand hold, and refining EXACTLY where my feet needed to be.  I was able to find two “not good, but hopefully good enough” rest stances that allowed me to lower my heart rate a bit and get a brief shake out.  And of course, taking a LOT of big whippers working the runout crux got rid of the fear factor, which allowed me to fully commit without hesitation when the time finally came.  

Same route, different day. CragDaddy on Blues Brothers, fabulous photo by Bryan Miller of Fixed Line Media

And amazingly enough, “that time” came on the last burn of the weekend.  I was feeling tired, but after attempt number 5 was a solid one hang, I knew I owed it to myself to try one more time.  Even though the crux lasts pretty much until you reach the chains, the hardest move for me always seemed to be the second hand move of the sequence, bumping my left hand from a sloping crimp to a shallow, and dismally sharp, quartz rail.  I had a feeling that if I could just stick that move, I’d have a good shot at a send.  

Not a bad view back at camp…

On my sending burn, I focused really hard on resting the correct amount of time (rush, and you don’t get enough back, linger too long, and you start getting pumped again!), and on making my footwork absolutely perfect setting up for the move that kept spitting me off.  I pasted my foot on the wall, hit the sloping crimp, looked down to hop my right foot up an inch higher…and made the bump successfully!  The rest of the sequence I was on auto-pilot and before I knew it, I was clipping chains on what is probably going to end up being the highlight of my fall season!  

I’d love to hear from everyone else – how’s your fall tick list coming?  For those of you in the Southeast, it looks like we might FINALLY be getting the good stuff from the weatherman soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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Alex Johnson on Projecting, Sending, and Lessons Learned

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

Alex Johnson Red Rock

Alex Johnson Sending Monster Skank. Photo: Ray Davalos

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

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

Alex Johnson Projecting

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

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

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

Alex Johnson Day 1 Monster Skank

Day 1 Try-Hard Face

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

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

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

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

Alex Johnson Monster Skank send

Controlled Movement on the Send. Photo: Ray Davalos

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

The vision for the Trango athlete team is to find climbers who embody our brand’s values and support them in their climbing endeavors. We focus on the character of the climber, their passion for the sport, and their desire to contribute to the community.

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