Monthly Archives: February 2015

Freedom Forest

I’ve been raised on a steady, well-balanced diet of sandstone.  Usually when rock climbing is mentioned, images of perfectly-sculpted slopers on immaculate boulders in the Southeast, endless pockets up an overhang at the Red River Gorge, and water-streaked crimpfests up a blank headwall at the New River Gorge cloud my thought process while I can almost feel the distinct, clastic textures of the different holds.  Sandstone is one of my favorite mediums to climb, and it is also what I have most experience on.  Before and after my recent trip to Bishop, I was climbing in an enchanting forest full of mossy, sandstone boulders on top of the Santa Cruz Mountains.  The area is often compared to the mythical forest of Fontainebleau.  But this isn’t France, and to avoid any confusion/embarrassment by association with a place that is so un-American, most people call it Castle Rock.

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Sunset at Castle Rock. Photo by Carly Broderick.

Immediately upon reaching the Parking Lot boulder after an extremely long and strenuous approach, I knew I would love Castle Rock.  Everything felt, looked, and even smelled vaguely familiar.  The texture of the rock was perfect : gritty yet fine-grained.  The large and well-featured boulders were nestled in a lush forest.  The combination of leaves, pine needles, dirt, and loose sand was a subtle yet intoxicating scent.  My senses were alive, and I was also amazed to learn that Castle Rock used to be the local stomping ground for climbers like Chris Sharma.

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Warming up on the classic Tree Route V4. This is also the beginning of the Quiver V7. Photo by Carly Broderick.

Within the first few days of climbing at Castle Rock, I had sent many of the easier classic problems, and I had got to play around a little bit on some of the harder ones.  If I had more pads/spotters, I would have really liked to spend more time on one of the most classic lines in the park, Ecoterrorist V10.  Unfortunately, I did not, but the brief time that I spent on it was fun.  Unsurprisingly, I found myself more attracted to the crimpy and purely powerful problems like Collin’s Problem V10 and Deforestation V10.  Both were short and easy to work problems, but I didn’t send either of them.  Regardless, I felt gains simply by trying those problems, and I made improvements during my sessions.

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Sticking the dyno on Bates Problem Sit-Start V9. Photo by Charlie Marks.

Simply being at Castle Rock made me happy.  The weather was beautiful almost everyday, and I don’t think I will ever get bored of wandering through a forest to find boulders to climb.  Even when I was frustrated with a project, I would quickly drop any negative emotions the moment I laid down on my crash pad.  Though after coming back from my week at Bishop, I was feeling quite good and sent some projects in the forest.  The first to go down was the sit-start to Bates Problem V9.  The start to this problem requires quite a bit of core tension to pull off the ground with bad feet and a slopey undercling.  After bearing down on a rounded crimp and some heel-toe cam trickery, you arrive at the stand start to the problem, which is V5/6 single move dyno to a nice sloper.  I had done the stand start before, but sticking the move with the added low start made it feel quite a bit harder.  After piecing together the strenuous opening sequence and doing the beginning of the problem perfectly about four times in a row only to fail on the last move, I finally stuck the dyno and quickly moved on to more unfinished business.

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Static Reach V8. Photo by Charlie Marks.

Right before leaving for Bishop, I had spent a whole bouldering session aggressively attacking and getting thoroughly destroyed by this peculiar problem called Static Reach V8.  I had spent about 3 hours trying to wrestle this awkward compression problem to death.  It was quite stupid to spend so much time beating myself up, but I could not figure out how to do the last move to grab the top of the arête.  The problem starts sitting directly below the arête, and the first few moves are typical of a sandstone compression problem on slopers and pinches.  However, you get to a point where you can’t really ascend any higher with the holds, and there is nothing but air between you and the ground.  I tried throwing for the top, but generating any power from my position was quite hard.  I was determined to finish up the problem that day, and I had new beta that I hoped would allow that to happen.  The new and not very obvious beta involved thrutching my right heel over to the center of my body then placing my right knee as a foothold in the center of the arête.  Even while wearing pants, my knee got scraped up each time I tried to use it.  After a few burns on the problem, I found myself statically reaching to the smooth ridge with my left hand.  Despite the ridiculous amount of self-inflicted physical pain from this boulder problem, the next thought in my head was “maybe I could try the V10 lower roof start a little bit”.  Fortunately my body saved itself from any further harm by doing this thing called being tired.  Ideally when my body becomes a climbing machine, there will be no such thing as tiredness, but with my hand skin suffering from road rash, achy elbows, cut up knee, sore groin, and torso muscles that were too weak to give a hug, it felt good to finish the day of climbing.

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The heinous knee hold crux move. Photo by Charlie Marks.

My time at Castle Rock came to an end when I had to fly back to Ohio to start my last semester at Oberlin.  As expected, I was greeted with a massive amount of snow.  My hopes of getting back to work on an open project at Brecksville were crushed.  I had been spoiled by the ideal weather for the past month spent in California and Nevada, and it was a reminder to appreciate my opportunity to travel and climb.  For now, I am studying/practicing away for my last classes and senior recital while getting ready for the spring season of sport climbing at the Red and the New.  Vive le Grès!!!

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First and only time climbing on Ecoterrorist V10. Such an amazing line, and I did realize after this attempt that it is a long move straight up.  I cannot wait to come back to this boulder.  Photo by Carly Broderick.

This Must Be The Place

When I started climbing, I was told that bouldering will make you STRONG.  I really didn’t understand how or why, but eventually, I found myself in a secluded barn in the dead of winter, climbing on an exceptional home-wall surrounded by the burliest boulderers in Northeast Ohio.  During my first barn session, I struggled to complete the two easiest problems.  I was the worst one there and sore for days.  Though I was quite intimidated and could barely climb the steep angles with small polished foot jibs, I was determined to get strong.  I loved every one of these sessions, and I always jump on the opportunity to climb there.  The training facilities are great, and the community could not be more supportive.  Even more memorable and significant to me are the stories that were told.  Like children’s bedtime stories about dragons, magic, castles, witches, beanstalks, bears, cookies, or wolves, my imagination for rock climbing was fueled by stories about surreal places like Bishop, California.

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About a week ago, I got to experience what it was like to climb and live in Bishop.  It was the fulfillment of everything that I had dreamed about on the days spent back East either stuck inside during a depressing winter storm or raining sweat on my belayer while flailing on Red River Gorge pumpfests and hanging in the hot, humid air that plagues the area most of the year. These winter days in Bishop were warm enough to soak up the sunlight that I am so deprived of and cool enough to send projects in the shade. How could you beat being surrounded by the Sierra Nevadas in the middle of an endless desert of perfect boulders?

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Sunset at the Pit campground.

I have come to realize that spending one week in a world-class climbing destination is an annoying. It can give you the impression that you have a decent amount of time to complete projects and enjoy a plethora of classics, but especially on a bouldering trip, rest days are a necessary evil if you plan to even get close to climbing at your limit. The first couple days of my week were spent re-adjusting to climbing on “granite” and whining about my destroyed skin. The climbing style of the Happy Boulders was somewhat familiar to me, but the Buttermilks were humbling and exposed my weaknesses. On my first day, I arrived at the Birthday boulder, and my feet skated all over my warm-ups, which also felt quite hard for the grade. The polished crystals were quite foreign to me, yet I began to correctly apply force and trust my feet. Surprisingly, I was able use some horrible foot holds to work out the bottom sequence of Stained Glass V10 that day, but my fingers were another story. My skin was soft and losing the battle against the most abrasive rock that I have touched in my life. After many failed attempts on Stained Glass V10, Soul Slinger V9, and Soul Slinger Right V8, my skin was done.  Blood seeped from holes poked in my fingertips like the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

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Birthday Direct V3.  Perfect introduction to Buttermilk country.  Photo by Charlie Marks.

I then proceeded to reopen my wounds halfway through the next climbing day at the Happies. I was quite frustrated, yet I maintained a positive attitude because I could not imagine a better place to be with such great friends. I bit the bullet and took two rest days during which I reorganized my camp at the Pit, worked on my sun tan, and religiously applied my homemade version of Climb On! to my fingers.

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Soul Slinger Right V8. Piercing my skin into the next sloper ended my day real quick. Photo by Charlie Marks.

The first half of my week was gone. I hadn’t really sent any goal problems, and I had rested a lot. Despite this, I was still very excited to be in Bishop, and the next day back, I got to climb with my good friend Josh who is also originally from Northeast Ohio but has been living on the East Side of the Sierras for a few years. Both of us had a great day of bouldering at the Buttermilks, and my skin seemed to have adjusted to area quite well.  I could feel that this day of climbing was the turning point of my trip.

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Working the moves of Toxic Avenger V9.  Photo by Charlie Marks.

The last couple of climbing days during my Bishop trip were great. I managed to send a handful of classic problems in the Happies, and I loved learning the intricacies of climbing on quartz monozite at the Buttermilks. Even though I was thoroughly tired and sore from the previous three days of bouldering, I decided to spend my last morning climbing at the Buttermilks before driving back to the Bay. The sun was shining, and I felt like I had a grin on my face the whole day. As I started up my warm-up on Sunshine Slab, I nearly jumped off the wall when a small lizard ran past my hand, and I was half-expecting it to suddenly reappear while I topped out the tall face. Thankfully, I did not break my legs falling off this highball.  I could feel that my body needed to rest, but I wanted to savor the last day. I had no expectations of sending especially after I failed to climb the V6 in the middle of Green Wall. In the last hour, I wanted to see if I could figure out the individual moves of Cocktail Sauce, which I had been struggling on a few days ago with Josh. The guidebook describes Cocktail Sauce as a low quality V10 problem involving the use of a shallow pocket. To me, it is a two-move wonder. It begins with a sit-start on a huge jug then a left hand throw to a gritty half-pad pocket. This move requires some accuracy, and I was barely able to squeeze three of my relatively small fingers onto the sharp edge. From here, I figured out some subtle yet simple foot beta that allowed me to throw out right to a solid crimp. After sticking the good right hand crimp, the problem is basically over, and just involves a bump to a left hand crimp then jugs to the top.   I drilled each move of the crux until it finally clicked, and when I stuck the first jug that started the topout from the sit, I immediately felt a rush of euphoria. I felt strong enough to rip the jugs right off the boulder as I traversed to the top.  I was so excited to end my first trip to Bishop with a great send, and sitting on top of the boulder that morning couldn’t have been more satisfying.

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Sticking the crux pocket of Cocktail Sauce “V10”. Photo by Carly Broderick.

Cocktail Sauce is definitely not a V10 boulder problem. At most, it is V9, and if you are a few inches taller than me, it is definitely easier to do the crux moves. I like to think of it as a typo in the guidebook. Regardless of the grade, I loved the problem, and it suited me quite well.   I felt a little (very slightly…a miniscule amount…barely?…) better about leaving perfect temps, sunshine, cheap camping, perfect boulders, beautiful mountains, and amazing climbing partners to head back to the Bay and eventually back to the dreaded winter that is haunting Northeast Ohio. From what I have experienced in my life so far, wintertime in Bishop is bouldering heaven.