Monthly Archives: December 2014

Where Are You Going I Don’t Mind

Oberlin College and Conservatory is a weird, beautiful, and ridiculous place to be for an undergraduate education.  One cannot entirely and accurately describe the many aspects that make this small liberal arts school in the middle of nowhere such a unique place.  Winter Term is one of these amazing features because it is a magical opportunity for all the students to escape the bleak and oppressive trap that is Northeast Ohio in January.  Classes end right before Christmas and do not begin again until the first week of February.  Students are required during this time to complete a project.  Projects can pretty much be anything that a faculty member, who sponsors the project, sees as an interesting use of time.  This could be practicing music for a recital, helping a professor with research, writing about your daily meditation, fermenting kombucha, going to circus school, etc.  The majority of my Winter Terms were spent traveling and rock climbing while simultaneously trying to practice classical guitar.


Finger Lockin’ Good 5.10 is just one of the many perfect crack climbs at Tennessee Wall near Chattanooga, and it was definitely worth the long and stressful drive through an epic blizzard the day after New Years during my second Winter Term.


Sending Thunderstruck, my first 5.13a, at Poema de Roca on my first trip to Spain during my third Winter Term.


Discovering my love for jamon at the Olive Branch in El Chorro.


Mind blown in Siurana this past Winter Term.  Photo by Carly Broderick.


Getting lost in the Gorge at El Chorro and loving every second. Photo by Carly Broderick.


Carly and I staying warm between routes and trying to not get blown off El Caminito del Rey, one of the most dangerous via ferratas in the world.

After I finished my finals for the fall semester and before embarking on a road trip to California, I was able to sneak out to Chippewa Creek for a couple sessions and boulder in some unbelievably good weather.  The temperature most days was between 30 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and the air was relatively dry.  There was no snow on the ground or the rocks, and more importantly, many good friends were available and psyched to get outside to climb during the holiday season.  Most of my time was spent working three different problems.  I made solid progress and came close to sending Integration, which is a tricky V9/10 and has seen probably three ascents in the past 20 years.  I re-cleaned and failed to make any tangible progress on a vertical/slabby line that will probably be about V9 (though it is very height dependent).

The most exciting problem that I spent a good chunk of time working was an open project nicknamed the Eco-terrorist.  Over the past few months, the landing for this project was greatly improved and the face was cleaned by members of the local climbing community.  I first tried this problem earlier this fall and was initially discouraged because I could not stick one of the opening moves. Below the nice layer of caked mud are perfectly sculpted holds and long, powerful moves.  The face is gently overhanging, and the bedding of the rock tilts uniformly up to the left.  The problem starts standing with a good right hand crimp and left hand undercling.  After stabbing the left hand into a one pad mono pocket, there is a long and accurate move to bump the left hand to a gaston crimp.  From here, taller climbers could lock a right foot heel hook and try to make a long move out right to the top ledge, or for climbers like me who are about 5’10” or shorter, you can get scrunchy with a high right foot below your starting right hand and dyno straight up to a sloper.  No one has done all the moves of the face yet, and the topout looks a little chossy and quite dirty.  I got close to sticking the dyno to the sloper this past weekend, and after a day of rest, I returned to find the project dripping wet.


Struggling to understand what to do with myself on the Eco-terrorist project earlier this fall. Photo by Jeff Bonatti.

Despite not sending any of my projects at Chippewa Creek, I did get to re-climb a few classic problems.  Fight or Flight V7 is condition-dependent and tricky traverse.  For some, finding the correct beta is a nightmare, and for those who have the moves wired, it is basically a warm-up because most holds are finger-friendly.  Los Nuggets V5 is fun, yet sharp problem that involves rocking over a left heel hook.  When I first worked this problem, I remember trying so hard with my left leg, which resulted in a ridiculously sore hamstring.  Also, enjoy the break from cliche electronic music in these bouldering videos.  I may be one of the only rock climbers to maintain finely manicured nails for classical guitar and climb 5.13.  I may also be one of the only classical guitarists crazy enough to routinely abuse my fingers and expect to have good tone.

Currently, I am packing for my last Winter Term trip, and I will be spending the majority of it in California.  There will probably be a few days of climbing in Red Rocks to break up the long drive, and I am planning to focus on bouldering in preparation of a season of sport climbing at the New and the Red in the Spring.  I couldn’t be more excited to have the opportunity to travel and rock climb.  At the same time, I do not know exactly where I am headed in life or even where I want to go.  I have one more semester of school, and a vague idea of what I want to be doing when I graduate.  I do know that I want to be present in my actions and thoughts each day while sharing the beauty of life with those around me.  We are completely responsible for how we choose to spend our time, and we are truly limited by time in this physical existence.

“Strangers on this road we are on…”


There’s a Tweaker on that Feature

The only thing scarier than the bat living in 8th of Crack or a wocket in your pocket is the feeling when an explosive rupture of muscle and connective tissue shoots from the palm of your hand down through your forearm like a tensioned guitar string being slashed by a samurai sword.  Why would anyone want to risk tearing themselves apart by throwing their body around with just a couple fingers stuck in holes? Rock climbing.  Duh.  It’s so much fun.


Pulling the crux of Strangely Compelled 5.12a at Ten Sleep Canyon, Wyoming. This is a nice warmup if you can cruise two finger pockets and avoid inhaling a deadly virus from the massive pile of bat guano .  Photo by Dan Brayack.

Climbing on pockets is an inevitable part of sport climbing, yet I rarely see gym routes set with pockets.  Is this because the route setter had a bad experience with pockets and dismissed them as too tweaky, or maybe the setter has only been bouldering and never really climbed on many pockets?  Whatever the reason is, I still don’t see many pocketed routes at gyms, and the gyms where I set have very few pocket holds in relation to other holds…like bulbous slopers.


Yes, I decided that it was easier for me to mono the bolt hole of that massive sloper for this problem in Cleveland Rock Gym’s Boulder League. Photo by Kevin Knallay.

Climbers have every right to be afraid of hurting themselves on pockets especially if they don’t practice pulling on pockets, avoid strengthening their pocket grips in a structured way, or use risky techniques to hold pockets.  Personally, I have injured myself two times pulling on pockets, but I have learned very useful information from both experiences.  After climbing for about a year, I started working 5.12s at the Red River Gorge.  On a typical June day when it was 80 degrees Fahrenheit and 100% humidity, I had just onsighted my first 5.11a, Monkey in the Middle, at the Zoo.  I decided to walk over and start working the very classic Hippocrite 5.12a.  The route is short and steep, and most people struggle to consistently stick the deadpoint moves on the second half.  As I was climbing between the first and second bolt, my left hand was cranking very hard on a three-finger pocket (pinky pulled closely into my palm), and then a violent twinge burst down my forearm as I tried to cross with my right hand.  I freaked out and somehow made it to the next clip.  I could never climb again, I can’t play guitar, I am done forever…Though oddly enough after I calmed myself down, I realized that it only hurt to pull in the same way in which I injured it, so I finished working out the beta for the rest of the route.  I researched everything I could find on the Internet about what to do, talked to other climbers’ at Miguel’s, and continued to worry about the future of using my hand for anything (of course I avoided consulting a doctor’s professional opinion because that’s scary).  From what I could feel and understand, I had strained a muscle in my hand that runs down the forearm adjacent to flexor tendons called a lumbrical.  It only hurt when I pulled inactive fingers tightly into my palm when pulling on a pocket.  This was very useful:


The direct start to Table of Colors 5.13b at Left Flank is littered with two-finger pockets, and the feet in the beginning are comparable to small, screw-on foot jibs.  Both of these things are becoming rare in climbing gyms, yet I always hear climbers talking about wanting to send this route?  Photo by Carly Broderick.

I rested like a week and then avoided aggressively dropping the inactive fingers for months.  I gradually started to work back in hard moves with pockets.  Amazingly for my own sanity, I healed.  This experience was a good lesson that taught me different ways to use pockets and motivated me to practice climbing on pockets more often.  Though you can apply more force to a pocket when you pull in your inactive fingers, you are more likely to tear the lumbricals.  This past August when I was hangboarding for the fall climbing season at the Red, I stupidly strained a lumbrical in my right hand training a one-pad two finger pocket.  I had increased the weight on the grip after not successfully completing the exercises in the previous session.  I stopped training that grip and was careful how I used those fingers the rest of the season.  Currently, hangboarding with this grip feels fine, but I was prudent when increasing the load.


Pockets everywhere on Full Circle 5.13a at Wild Iris. Techy moves between shallow pockets on the vertical face to a horizontal roof with big moves between sinker pockets.  Photo by Carly Broderick.

Almost all my favorite sport routes have involved pockets, and the places that are most memorable to me are the Red River Gorge, Ten Sleep Canyon, Wild Iris, Sinks Canyon, El Chorro, Siurana, and Margalef.  I pulled on some drilled granite pockets in Boulder Canyon, but that was not fun.  Pockets can be tweaky, but with some mindful practice (and training if you are into self-inflicted torture), you will be able to stick any amount of fingers in the rock and not worry about breaking yourself!


Ohhh look at this beautiful 60ft sandstone cliff full of pockets and incuts. I wonder where it could be. Wait, I know where it is. This is at Liberty Park in Twinsburg, Ohio. Unfortunately, no one has the LIBERTY to climb here supposedly because some bats are dying from a mysterious disease, yet destroying acres of habitat is okay for a new parking lot,  new paved bike path, and new “nature” center. I love parking lots.  Great job Summit County Metro Parks!

I don’t claim to know anything about how the body actually works.  I am not responsible if YOU hurt yourself.  Though, think about how cool it would be to send Action Directe…or Realization…or First Round First Minute…

The Wrath of the Ohicians

Ohio hates rock climbing.  There aren’t many rocks, and the parks criminalize climbing them anyways.  Northeast Ohio’s climate is generally wet and cloudy.  When you aren’t shredding your skin onto the crux sloper because the air can’t decide whether it should rain or not, it is  unbearably cold.  If the air feels crisp and there isn’t a lake effect snow warning, make sure your project isn’t seeping from the previous two weeks of continuous rain. Okay, I should stop complaining because these annoyances will make me stronger. Right?

The Hanger

The Hanger at Chippewa Creek

Ahhh, it is finally perfect.  This only happens maybe 4 weeks out of a whole year.  Psyche is high.  After pulling into the Chippewa Creek parking lot, I quickly scan the area.  There are people hiking, kids playing on a swing set, and a picnic being setup in the nearby pavilion.  The coast is clear.  Random park go-ers observe my odd looking “backpack” and grungy appearance as I rush to get from my Civic to the forest in fear of getting deported back to a sedentary lifestyle of boredom.  Finally! I made it to the warm-up, Sauna Boulder.  Right as I am topping out the right V3 variation, which is more like cleaning a bunch of caked mud and sticks off of hidden jugs, I look up, and my body freezes mid-mantle.


A frozen blur.  This is exactly how you shouldn’t climb Integration V9/10.

My eyes were locked on the park ranger, who was staring directly back at me and standing a few yards away from the edge of the cliff.  I collected myself and casually finished the mantle.  Though I had heard horror stories about gear confiscation and hefty fines being issued, I was simply asked to leave.  I knew that I should have gone across Chippewa Creek to warm-up where no one would bother me, but I just love warming-up on that beautiful crimp rail! The pudgy, middle-aged ranger would have never dared to walk down the hill and cross the river via slightly sketchy rock hop.  I also wondered how many times in the past month he would have had to walk over 10 yards off any trail.  Chippewa Creek is part of the Cleveland Metroparks, which our taxes dollars pay to exist.  I should be able to enjoy our parks as long as I don’t harm anyone else or the environment.  I might as well give up now and just watch TV on this beautiful day because that is what normal people do…  Despite this wonderful interaction with the park ranger, my ingrained disdain for authorities left me ranting for days and reinforced my beliefs that Ohio’s park regulations suck and I need to get out of this state if I actually want to rock climb.

Blood Gnome V8. Classic and powerful. The next move involves locking down those two famously sharp crimps, getting a high foot smear, and an all-out dyno to the top.

I guess the reason that I am so bitter about climbing in Northeast Ohio is that it has the potential to be so much fun.  Access and weather definitely get in the way of this, but there are some opportunities for high quality rock climbing.  The majority of people in the area view rock climbing as a very foreign activity, and there is only a small community of climbers to support it.  Ohio rock climbing is also shadowed by the fact that most people, including myself, would rather drive a few hours Friday evening and spend a weekend crushing at the Red or New River Gorge.  While these two world-class sandstone crags never disappoint me, the local sandstone is definitely a fun medium.  Though, on several occasions, I have found myself driving back from Coopers Rock State Park in West Virginia, and saying, “I sort of wish I had been bouldering at Brecksville today…”

One of those coming back from Coopers Rock.  NO I did not bash my elbow through my own car window...I tripped walking out of Titled Tree and then arrived to find my car that had been robbed through the clever use of a bowling ball-sized rock.

One of those days coming back from Coopers Rock. No, I did not bash my elbow through my own car window…I tripped walking out of Tilted Tree and then arrived at my car that had been robbed by the clever use of a bowling ball-sized rock.  Thank you West Virginia!

I love bouldering at Chippewa Creek because it is the center of the Northeast Ohio climbing universe.  Around 400 million years ago (if you don’t BELIEVE scientists, skip this section and reread the first couple chapters of Genesis to reinforce your naive view of how our planet came into existence as the world we see today then never try to have a conversation with me about anything that involves the physical world ever again…oh and you can’t use vaccines because scientists created it with their lies about evolution) most of Ohio was underwater, but the eastern portion of the state was a river delta.  The rivers originated in the Appalachian Mountains, which were forming at this time as continental plates were colliding to eventually form Pangaea.  These rivers carried the sediments from the mountains to the edge of the ocean that was covering Ohio.  After a few millions of years of being compressed in the ground and cemented together, these silicastic sediments experienced a magical transformation.  The Berea Sandstone was born.

The Gem is one of the most beautiful pieces of Berea Sandstone.  Though the landing has a habit of being washed away by the river,

The Gem is one of the most beautiful pieces of Berea Sandstone. Though the landing has a habit of being washed away by the river, there are two ways to climb this amazing boulder.  Straight to the lip from this position is about V5/6 while continuing left and then up the clearly defined feature is an unrepeated testpiece that is at least V11.

My perception of Chippewa Creek is truly unique.  It was the first place that I explored when wanted to find real rock climbing.  On that first time out, I barely found any of the established problems that were worth climbing.  I climbed up some V0 choss without a crashpad and then almost fell right off the top while trying to grab some poorly-rooted plants.  The better quality problems that I did stumble upon left me in a state of amazement.  I didn’t understand how it was possible to climb these problems.  There was chalk, and I tried to grab where the chalk was.  It just didn’t work.  My experience with rock climbing at the time was minimal:  I had climbed in a gym for about 2 months, I had my own pair of Five Ten Coyotes, a homemade Crown Royal chalk bag, and I knew how to toprope belay (oh yeah).

Epitome of crushing.  Calling myself a gumby at this point would an understatement.

Epitome of crushing. Calling myself a gumby at this point would an understatement.

My excitement to climb outside jumped to another level after this initial tasting, and I  constructed a mythical image of the local bouldering developers who I had only heard brief stories about.  Later, I would meet and climb with these people.  The sensation was unreal because they are heroic figures to me.  I know this is quite ridiculous because they were simply some guys that wanted to find some boulders to climb, but they opened the door to a whole new world.   I am eternally grateful for everyone that has done a first ascent, cleaned a route that I have climbed on, climbed outside with me, climbed in the gym with me, taught me anything about climbing, given me a belay, given me beta, not given me beta,  given me a place to stay, given me a ride, let me borrow their lighter in the Miguel’s “people port”, invited me to go on a trip, invited me to your home climbing wall, set a route in a gym, given me an opportunity to work in a gym, and simply shared their excitement for life.  Over the past four years, I have learned an unbelievable amount about climbing, myself, and our world.  I have thoroughly enjoyed every second (even if there is a bunch of complaining about shitty weather or not sending), and I want to continue to do this for the rest of my life.

Stay psyched! I know I am even though I am entering my second to last finals week at Oberlin.