Saturday, February 12, 2011

Lake Willoughby

I headed up to the Lake with Kevin today. I'm training for a linkup of the Sorcerer and Hydrophobia in the Canadian Rockies in March, so I told him to take me up as many hard climbs as possible. He's always psyched, but he seemed extra psyched today. I'm guessing his shenanigans on Endangered Species at Poke-O probably had something to do with it. Unfortunately, it was about -10 F when I stepped out of my motel room at Lyndonville this morning, so that put a bit of a damper on things. It made the ice explosively brittle pretty much all day. Good training. We started climbing around 9, just as the sun poked around the cliff. We climbed on these 70 m 7.8 mm twins that Kevin brought. The idea was that we could link all the two pitch routes in the Mindbender area into one pitch. So we'd climb, rap, climb, rap, etc, and that would be good training.

We started on Plug and Chug (NEI 5) which, I'm sad to say, didn't actually involve any plugging and chugging. It actually involved a lot of insecure, wide hooks on ice mushrooms and munching our way through snow with a one inch crust of useless ice on top. I thought it was pretty hard--if you ever go and do it, don't be fooled by the sandbagged rating. Next, we did a line on the left of Mindbender (NEI 5+) which involved some pretty awesome stemming. I thought it was actually easier than Plug and Chug. Then we did Renormalization (NEI 4), which felt pretty easy after all that. Then Kevin looked at his watch, saw it was around 4, forgot that he had to go out to dinner with his wife, and took me up the right side of Mindbender, which did indeed blow my mind. I'd say it was a pretty full on grade 6 climb. (We've done a bunch of other 6s together--Nemesis, Curtain Call, Omega, etc., and this felt as hard as any of those.) At one point, Kevin crawled into a cave in the ice, and then crawled out of a hole on the other side, such that the rope actually went through the ice fall. Then the climbing got really hard...bulge after bulge of overhanging daggers, those nasty candled things that have melted together, and some light drytooling. I was pushed pretty close to my limit on that one...after a 20 m section of that, it went back to regular straight up 5+, but by then I was kind of smoked.

Now I'm sitting in my motel room eating a subway BMT sandwich with southwest sauce on it. That last climb, and this sandwich, have me really psyched. This year, I took on a new appointment as a lecturer in the chemistry department, which has made me the busiest I've ever been. I haven't been in the regular gym or to Metrorock as much, but I've found a new way to train: enlist Dave Ford to go do ice tool hangs every day. I never used to be that disciplined about it (it's pretty intense, and it's too easy to put down your tools, and eat a sandwich instead), but it's a cool doing it with a friend. Forearm endurance has always been my #1 problem in climbing (this is why I always try to climb as fast as possible without making any mistakes), so I'm finally working it directly. I think it's helping. But I'm kind of plateaued at the moment as an ice climber. On the one hand, I have a good swing, pretty good footwork, and can crank out some hard pitches as a follower when I get psyched. But on the other hand, I still get scared leading straight up, vertical ice when I have to place screws from positions while hanging from one arm. It's pretty crazy, because when I'm following these things, I'm solid and I'm fine. So I think the problem is in my head and by training my endurance, I'll give myself the extra margin to hang out on steep terrain without getting scared.

One thing that Smarter Climbers have told me is that when climbing ice is to never fall and be super solid. So, don't do what these guys did:

A few years back, Scrappy told me that I should test every placement and showed me what a good placement felt like. Every placement, he said, was like your belay--and if you fuck up, you'll probably get hurt. What I'm realizing now is that he was right, but I misinterpreted what he said in a sense. You know how sometimes you'll swing your tool really well, and it will fly into the ice, and this "dwunk" sound will vibrate through the shaft of your tool and you'll know it's a bomber placement? I got into the mindset that every tool placement should be like it. And OK, yeah, in an ideal world, that's true. I'd also like another sandwich right now, but getting one would be too much trouble. I think it's the same way with these hard ice routes--too often, you're just going to have to accept the fact that you're on a wobbly hook, keep your elbows low, stay static on it, and try not shit your pants. Or maybe you'll be on steep terrain, and you'll swing and get a decent stick, but it won't be the awesome super solid kind. I think my new strategy will be to test the placement with body weight, and if it's good enough, just move on to save energy. Welding your tools can just be pointless--the laser picks on my Cobras got stuck about a dozen times today, and it seemed that most of the time, it was because the placements they were in were too good. I'm sort of experimenting by following more stuff this way, but I think I have enough experience now to know when these "pretty good, but not perfect" placements are good enough. I think the other key to this strategy is to have super solid footwork. There were a lot of times today when I'd slap the side of my tool on some crust, send a lot of it down, and then try and rake my tool ineffectually through the snow underneath, only to move up properly just by standing up carefully. If you don't lose your balance on less than vertical terrain (which it often is), then in principle, you don't need to hang from your tools...

So I'm trying to be more solid by being a bit less solid, if that makes any sense. Maybe it's a shocking departure from my previous "be solid, be solid, be solid" stance. What do you guys think?

In other news, hooray for Egypt and boo for this:

Tomorrow, I'm getting after it with Bayard at Cathedral. I hope you guys get out climbing!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Getting After Some Pheasant

So Dave Ford and I headed up to Frankenstein with Kevin Mahoney these last two days to get tuned up for what promises to be very exciting ice season. We have a trip planned out to the Canadian Rockies with Jimmy and Dunbar in March, so we're trying to get ready for it. We got kind of wrecked by an embarrassingly small number of pitches, so I guess we're not quite ready yet. Yesterday we headed up the Bragg-Pheasant (NEI 5), a rarely formed route at the north end of the cliff. (See pic1, which is not of us, but other climbers recently.) It was in really great shape and it was an awesome time. Today we did Welcome to the Machine and Dropline (pic2, both NEI 5, but Dropline is harder). Dropline was as fat as I've ever seen it, but it was still ridiculously pumpy. I was just barely keeping it together on its relentlessly steep, weirdly candled crux column. So evidently I'm pretty out of shape and need a bit (i.e., a lot) of practice. (Side ad: I was also struggling with blunt picks that had been filed down past the first tooth (don't do this) and dull crampons. Anyone interested in a pair of worn Petzl Darts for $50, MRSP $200? If the club is interested, it has first dibs.) Dave climbed as well as I've ever seen him. Afterwards, we were chatting with Kevin and he suggested that we go to the Flume and do, say, 5 sets of 4 laps on the grade 5 pillars in there. I guess now we have to go do that. Heh. Tomorrow we're off to Cannon to do some skiing. It snowed all day, so it should be in good shape! In fact, it was hovering around 30 all day, but I found myself doing the ice climbing jig constantly--windmilling my arms like a crazy man, stomping my feet to an invisible tune, and other general fidgeting, all to stay warm. So have a nice Christmas and see you in the Daks!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Whitney-Gilman in the Winter

Dave and a gaggle of HMC hangers-on went up to Mt. Washington this past weekend, thereby beating me to the start of the ice season. Not to be outdone, I headed out of bed very early this morning to go climb the Whitney-Gilman Ridge with Kevin Mahoney. Now, it may not look much like winter here in Boston, but it's full on winter in the Notch. It was snowing all day and I could barely see the road from up on the climb until around 3 pm. It was cold, too...around 15 F all day. So winter's here!

The hike up to the cliff was pretty tricky today. I've seen it worse, but this was no joke. There was enough snow to make everything slippery and hide the boulders from view, but not enough to actually provide any support. I'd put my foot down on a promising patch of snow, sink into a hole between boulders, and have to get up again. I cursed a lot. I guess that's the early season for you.

We made our way up there by 9. The Ridge is a fairly moderate summer outing at 5.7. In the winter, however, it's a different story. It was totally covered in rime today and the climbing was desperate. I had done this route with Kevin two years ago, and since then, I've become a lot stronger and more experienced, so I thought I would see what it was like. I even foolishly thought I would want to lead it this season. But unfortunately, I'm still nowhere near good enough to do it yet.

There was enough snow to necessitate the use of crampons, which is bad news, because the climb is filled with downward sloping surfaces, none of which are useful for feet. The snow also covered all the holds, so I'd be locked off on a tool, alternately brushing snow off or raking wildly for tiny rounded edges above me. I found myself holstering a tool and holding pinches and slopers for all I was worth with one hand, and torquing with a tool in my other. There'd be super steep bits like the pipe pitch where I'd be doing fully 5.10 moves, and then once again I'd grovel belly first onto a 45 degree slab with no handholds or feet. In the summer, you'd whistle and smear up in your rock shoes without a second thought, but good luck doing that on rime! It was very Scottish.

I fell about half a dozen times and was honestly scared for the whole thing. I don't know what it was exactly. I've done a fair bit of hard winter climbing, even on the lead, and normally I'm pretty well put together mentally for them. It didn't help that there was a bunch of rope drag in places, so I didn't really have a very tight belay. At one point I did ten feet of what I thought were desperate drytool moves on a steep section, only to slide off the slab at the top of it, and right back to where I started! I don't like falling in crampons. This isn't Kevin's fault though...he did a great job, and I shouldn't need the rope to babysit me! (Actually, before I did that part, Kevin told me "oh, hey, this part's kinda hard...but just pull up and if you reach up way back, there's a blind open hook somewhere...yeah, heh, good luck." That certainly bolstered my confidence(!). But seriously, Kevin's a great guide, he's just much, much better than I am at this sort of thing.)

Just before I started the last pitch I looked up at it and thought: "Shit. That looks ridiculous. I'm not sure if I can follow that, let alone lead it!" But it was either drytool for all I was worth for 60 m, or suffer the undignified consequences. I was forced to take a deep breath, dig deep, and make it happen. So the climb kicked my ass, I'm covered in scrapes and bruises, and I may have had to cheat by drytooling on pitons, but I made it up there. Usually, I don't care about getting to the top, but this time, it was worth it.

The Dike and Fafnir look very thin at the moment. Kevin says they're "in but tricky," which for the rest of us means "not in." I think I'll wait till January for those...

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Good Season

Every year, well before the actual end of the rock season, I erroneously think that it's going to be way too cold to keep climbing, and I claim to throw in the towel, only to bring it back out when an "unexpected" bit of nice weather shows up. Well, this year I'm being slightly smarter and making the more restrictive statement that it's mostly over, and more importantly, it was awesome. It started out with a trip or two to Rumney. I don't remember much, except that I did Niki's Crack first try. It's weird, because, by technical grade, it was by far the hardest thing I led all season, but by sheer subjective difficulty, the easiest. But I knew I was sick of sport climbing. So I picked up trad instead.

I hadn't really done trad in any serious way before this season. Oh, sure, I had plugged in some gear, followed some routes, and even led a thing or two before, I always viewed it as a sort of mysterious adventure where I really didn't want to fall, never really knew where I was going, and felt I would turn into a pumpkin if I got caught out after dark. Most of that is still true. But what changed for me, oddly enough, is that I learned how to aid climb. Mark "Scrappy" Synnott showed me how to do it last year, and he made me bounce test every single piece. Vigorously. If I gave the piece what I felt was a violent tug, he would shake his head sadly, give my bounce test a 2 out of 5, and probably make some remark about my grandmother being able to do better than that. So I learned a lot about gear placements and when to trust them. In fact, when we went out to Yosemite in June, I was leading on the South Face of Washington Column and really failed to test a piece (a blue Metolius) properly, and it pulled out and I took a whip!

I started with small steps. I thought maybe, just maybe, I'd get to do one 5.10 or something at the end of the season. In April, I went to the Gunks with Dave (pre-injury; I'm trying to forget that particular misadventure) and we did some "easy" climbing that was nonetheless hard enough. I was pretty slow, and I felt pretty pleased with myself when I did Son of Easy O, which was, I think, my first real Gunks roof. Well, later, I went to Acadia with the Engberg crew and associated acts, and climbed a bit with Mike and Sarah. I remember being at the Precipice and one of their friends told us they had bailed off Fear of Flying (10a) 'cause it was scary and hard. So naturally I decided I had to climb up there and find out if it was actually scary and hard. Well, they were right. I plugged in a nice green C3, went for a move, and took a huge whip. I climbed back up there, whipped again, and finally got it. After that I felt good. I guess I found out why the route got that name!

I went to Yosemite for a few weeks, and learned about crack climbing. I learned about how awesome but scary it is to be up high on a wall. I found out that pro-climbers are grimy dirtbags who live in the Caf even if they're rich (and most of them aren't). I learned to be a grimy dirtbag myself. We ducked the bears (and lineups) to seek the "alternative accommodations" in the talus fields behind Camp 4. When I came back, I practically moved to the Gunks. I started on Retribution and Bird Cage and moved from there. Sometimes I'd have a target in mind. But then, I'd wander up and down the carriage road, squinting ineffectually at the rock, and cursing the "guidebook" for having pictures which were only slightly higher resolution than say, an Etch-a-Sketch. Most of the time I'd just abandon all pretense of having any plans or notions of where I was, and just try to climb whatever looked good where I was. Sometimes this would mean climbing something bad. I nearly squashed Jaclyn with a microwave-sized block I pulled off of Beetle Brow Bulge. (I don't really like that part of the cliff anymore. Or the area around Limelight. Everyone says it's awesome there, but I think it's really run out.)

Sometime over the summer, I got to take a break from the Gunks and meet up with Dunbar, Karen, Gil, and Rikka at the New River Gorge. I did sport the whole time. I even onsighted an 11c. I don't know what got into me. That's certainly unusual...maybe the grades are soft there or something. I also floated on a log in the lake at Kaymoor. The log was slimy, but the water was refreshing. It was bloody hot.

Last weekend was particularly good (and much colder). I wasn't sure if I was feeling that good, but it turned out I was on my game. The days are short now, so we didn't actually do that many routes, but Jaclyn and I got on Grim Ace Face. Allegedly "9+," this is kind of a scary, run-out thing that's more like 5.8 R on the first pitch and 5.10a or b on the third. I was told a hold broke, and now it's harder, so hopefully this isn't just my usual after-climb grade inflation. And anyways, everyone knows the 5.9+'s at the Gunks are top-heavy and probably harder than a lot of the easier 10s! As my belayers will undoubtedly tell you, I like to chalk up a zillion times and work the moves of tricky sections up and down before I commit to them. Well, there was a huge roof that involved me doing a pullup, plugging in a piece blind, then coming down, doing another pullup to check the piece out, and repeating this process a few times until I was satisfied I wasn't going to crater if I fell. I finally psyched myself up for it, and I gunned it over the roof with a cool little heel hook. That was a fun onsight. I tried Doubleissima on Sunday, but I hung on it. Guess the fire went out for that one. But I watched Dave and Lauren shoot up High E, which was awesome.

Well I've rambled enough. I'm lying low (doing a lot of work, actually) for a while, and then hoping for an amazing ice/mixed season. Come climb with me in the Daks! I mean, sure, you can go vacation like the rest of the dessicated-looking gasbags in tropical climes, or you can do some awesome ice climbing and skiing in the Daks. Rock climbing in the winter? What? But that's just me.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Gunks Madness

Dave, Taylor, Jaclyn, and I went to the Gunks this weekend. It was...more exciting than usual (although I seem to say that with alarming frequency). On Saturday, I took Jaclyn up Son of Easy O (5.8) first. It's a really great 5.8, with thin crack moves up to a short jug haul through a horizontal roof. Jaclyn was psyched and grinned at me as she came up to the belays. We met up with Dave and Taylor after eating some grapes (the finest summer climbing food ever invented), and did our usual "let's wander down the Trapps, go up a random trail, and thumb through the guidebook" approach. I found something called Beatle Brow Bulge (5.10) to do. It was easy climbing until a horizontal roof, after which I couldn't see very well. I fiddled in three pieces at the roof, chalked an excessive amount to stall, and then punched it through the roof. I made it, and fiddled in a good yellow C3. I couldn't see the exact line, so I shook out on a medium sized hold for a while and thought about things. After a while, it was clear to me it was time to go or fall, so I decided that I had good gear and went for it. I hit a few crimps and then what seemed like a great jug. Too bad the jug was attached to a block, which was attached to...nothing. Suddenly, I was flying backwards as a microwave sized block rained down terror on my belayer, Jaclyn, who fortunately was paying attention and had the presence of mind to dodge it. I felt pretty frazzled after that. I think Dave was telling me about doing some run out 5.5 called Blueberry Ledges, but to be honest, he could have been speaking in Japanese, and I wouldn't have noticed. I reluctantly pulled the roof again, finished the climb, and bid good riddance to the climb.

I felt better about myself on Sunday. We went up an excellent three pitch link-up called Oscar and Charlie (5.7), which takes the best pitches of: Oscar's variation to Strictly From Nowhere's P1, Strictly From Nowhere's P2, and Charlie's P3. I felt psyched again, and I had heard from Neal that MF was "the standard for 5.9" in the Gunks, so I went and checked it out. I looked the climb over in an inspection which was, in retrospect, overly cursory. There were some holds, some cracks, a roof...nothing to it, right? I headed up to the roof, and clipped a sketchy looking vertical angle, and a better looking horizontal angle. Then I got a case of tunnel vision, and instead of going around the roof like a normal person, punched it upwards, which is MF Direct, a 5.10. A 5.10 PG/R, but I didn't know that at the time. All I knew is that my body was horizontal through this roof, and I was making some wild moves on some pins of unknown quality. I cranked through it, and kept climbing up. But I didn't see any gear. Hmm. Oh well, I'm committed now! After a while, I got to a one of those goddamn thin horizontal cracks with all the pebbles in it. It would have taken a #6 or #7 BD nut, but I had already used mine. All I could get in was a bad #4 nut between two tiny pebbles, and a fairly marginal #0 C3. I shook out. I fiddle with gear. I swore. My heart pounded most inconveniently, as I was looking at taking a pretty big whip if I fell here. After a while I managed to fiddle in an even more marginal #00 C3. I wasn't sure if these things were even going to take body weight, but I didn't know what was coming up next. So it was a choice between possibly taking a probably OK but scary 30 foot whip now, or a certainly dangerous 50 or 60 foot whip higher up. Fortunately, all the aid climbing paid off, and I hung there, somewhat stunned, for a while. After that, I recovered enough and climbed to the top pretty easily. I kind of wish I had on-sighted it, but I'm trying not to paint myself into a corner, either. So it was a good time. I think.

This was Taylor's first trad adventure, and I think she was psyched. She said something about trad being cool, but being a sport climber at heart, but that's what I said a while back myself. Of course, you need to have a somewhat defective personality where you only remember the fun parts of climbing (and not the scary run out parts) to like it, but I have faith in her. I think Dave, who hurt his ankle a while back in a very unfortunate aid-climbing related misadventure, got some of his lead head back, which is really good. And Jaclyn led her second trad climb, Three Pines (5.3). That was actually my first. I remember doing it with Kevin and Caroline years ago, and thinking it was the scariest thing ever. And now it's no big deal...something we raced up an hour before dark. Cool. I also ran into "The English Party" of climbers who are attending Nika and Nick's wedding on Friday. On the trail, I asked them whether they were good at croquet. "Are we good at *what*?" They seemed very confused. I mumbled something about lawns, hoops, and balls, and the finally got it, but I think they're convinced I'm some sort of American lunatic. Everything in America, they say, is much bigger: the cliffs, the food, the people...perhaps they think the lunatics are crazier too. However, I'm not as crazy as Nika, who is getting her even crazier brother Zeb to perform the ceremony. I am worried he might bring a banjo instead of a bible. I'd say the move to have Zeb do it is perhaps PG...probably OK but could be interesting! So stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Course Website

Not too many blog entries of late, as I've been making a lot of slides:

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

New River Gorge

Dunbar, Karen, Gil, Rikka, and I made a snap decision to go to the New this weekend. Gil and Rikka, being quite dedicated, drove up from Texas to surprise Dunbar and Karen, who came up from Virginia. I, being less dedicated and far more prone to carsickness, flew. We spent a day at Sandstonia in Bubba City, which is like a sandstone rock gym of climbs. Dunbar and I onsighted an 11c, which was pretty cool, even though I suspect it may have been quite a soft grade. We also spent some time by the lake climbing and swimming. At Kaymoor yesterday, Gil led a sweet 5.9 trad line and Karen and Rikka both led a classic 5.9, Flight of the Gumby. There were fireworks, stories told around camp, and mysterious sandstone cliffs in tropical-feeling forests of rhododendron and hemlock. It was magical.