Monthly Archives: April 2015

Spring Springing Springly

The pains of winter have been expelled from us for we have arrived in Purgatory.

The pains of winter have been expelled from us;  we have arrived in Purgatory.

It is beautiful to see the hours of challenging, punishing, and boring training manifest itself in the accomplishment of clearly defined goals.  Last fall, I spent my final climbing day struggling to stick the crux move of the direct start to Table of Colors.  I had sent the original line a few weeks before, and I had done all the moves of the harder start.  Yet, I couldn’t control the sharp hematite crimp with my left hand in order to stab out right to an oddly-shaped crimp divot when I started from the ground.  I wasn’t pumped approaching it, yet I also couldn’t consistently do the move even after hanging on the bolt.  I was pissed, but it was exactly what I needed.  Left Flank is one of my favorite crags in the world, and the beauty and quality of routes there have always motivated me to improve.  Thanks to Mark and Mike Anderson, I knew what I had to do and how to do it.

Cruising through the opening moves of Table of Colors Direct 5.13b. Photo by Melanie Xu.

Cruising through the opening moves of Table of Colors Direct 5.13b.
Photo by Melanie Xu.

I was lacking power, and I generally needed to be stronger on crimps and pockets if I was going to send Table Direct in the spring.  So, training began in December with a month of hangboarding, and it was quite convenient that the hematite crimp, which was giving me so much trouble, very closely resembles the smallest flat crimp on the Trango hangboard.  January involved a bouldering trip to Bishop, an area characterized by powerful climbing on crimps, and by February, I was back at it fighting freezing conditions in Eastern Kentucky.  I could feel that I was stronger and more than physically capable of climbing the route, but I needed to figure out the proper way to apply the new level of power.  I had one good session on the route in February, but early in March, there was heavy rain that brought send-crippling condensation.  I wasn’t surprised; the Red River Gorge is basically a rainforest.

Resting right before the crux, which links back into the original line.  Photo by Melanie Xu.

Resting right before the crux, which links back into the original line. Photo by Melanie Xu.

During the last week of March, I had a week-long spring break, and the weather looked promising.  After visiting a good friend in Lexington and horribly playing darts for too long at a college bar the night before, I was rolling down Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway blaring the Offspring all the way to Left Flank.  I was so psyched, and more importantly, Waffle House seemed to be sitting well.  On my first attempt on Table Direct, I still felt a little weak and not properly warmed up after walking up Aquaduct Pocket.  On my second attempt, I completed the bottom and stupidly missed the “bass mouth” in the middle crux.  I knew I only had one more good effort for the day, and as the sun was setting, I tied in for one last try.  I cruised through the bottom section more easily than I had ever before, yet pulling each successive move after that seemed increasingly difficult.  In the middle crux, I felt like I was falling off the holds while somehow moving up and stabbing my digits in the correct place.  I was amazed that I was still on the wall and sitting in a comfortable rest position.  My mind raced, and I rested for an eternity.  After finally calming myself down, I mentally ran the final sequence over and over.  Once I came to the realization that I need to leave this rest, I chalked up my already obsessively chalked finger tips and executed the final section with ease.

Clipping after finishing the direct start.  Photo by Melanie Xu.

Clipping after finishing the direct start. Photo by Melanie Xu.

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Beginning the most desperate yet successful battle with the “bass mouth” crux. Photo by Melanie Xu.

Spring break started off extremely well, and after a solid rest day, I was ready for more.  Recently, I have been somewhat annoyed when climbing at Muir Valley because I hate hiking out, there aren’t many routes that I want to do, there is an overwhelming amount of people, and I HATE HIKING OUT.  I mean I love the climbing there and could not be more thankful for this area, but personally, I would rather go somewhere else given the plethora of world-class crags within minutes of driving.  Despite all of this, I went with my friends to Muir for the day and proceeded to almost whip off a disgusting and freezing cold 5.10 warmup.  Not the most ideal start to the day, but I was excited to try a route that had spit me off too many times.  As usual, Solarium was packed, but no one was on Bundle of Joy.  I quickly hung draws and found myself staring down the final crux at the top of the cliff.  I tried the dyno beta, but failed.  I tried it a few more times and failed even though I had done that beta before.  I wanted something more consistent and remembered some of my friends talking about using tiny (heinous) holds to statically pull the top.  I found exactly what they were talking about, and it involved a small and sharp left hand crimp, which allows you to rock over your right heel to reach the ledge.  I rehearsed it until I completed the crux sequence three times in a row and made sure the holds were clean before lowering to rest.

Starting up Bundle of Joy 5.13a.  Photo by Melanie Xu.

Starting up Bundle of Joy 5.13a. Photo by Melanie Xu.

While relaxing on a comfy rock and eating a banana, I realized for the first time how cool Solarium really is.  It is a consistently overhanging and beautifully streaked wall littered with good holds.  It is hard sometimes to see the beauty when there is a mob of people waiting in line for a route with some dude flailing his way up and saying, “None of the moves are that hard; linking it is really pumpy etc. (DUH that’s what most of the climbing is like)”.  After this contemplative moment, I tied in and quickly made my way to the giant hueco rest below the crux.  I love these massive holes in the wall where you can hang out.  I usually like to try to find the resonate frequency of the hole by humming, listen to my heart beating, clean my shoes, look for any crag literature, make chalk drawings, imagine I am being birthed from the cliff, peek my head out to watch other climbers, and/or optimally adjust my clothing situation.

Chilling in restful hueco.  Photo by Melanie Xu.

Chilling in restful hueco. Photo by Melanie Xu.

After much procrastination, I yelled to my belayer that I was still alive and wanted to make sure she was still belaying me as I worked my way out of the hole.  I climbed as fast as I could to the last clip, which felt more desperate than I had hoped.  I precisely executed my sequence to set up for the final move to the top, and all I could think was “I am going to pull as hard as I possibly can, so I don’t have to do this again”.  It worked, and I excitedly grabbed the sloping ledge and shook out quickly before the final mantle to the chains.

Chalking up the left hand finger tips to ensure perfect contact with the sharp crimp.  Photo by Melanie Xu.

Chalking up the left hand finger tips to ensure perfect contact with the sharp crimp. Photo by Melanie Xu.

The second half of my break involved a struggle to find partners for a few days and a weird negative feedback loop in my mind that developed from not being successful on routes that I thought were in the bag.  Everything worked out, and I even headed back to Ohio with smile despite being not sending and having to do homework.  I have realized that on a very superficial level I am concerned with the concrete results of my performance (sends), but what I care about more when it comes to pushing the difficulty of my rock climbing is consistent execution of things within my ability.  I derive great satisfaction when I do something well, and I am very annoyed when I screw up something that I know I can do.  I wouldn’t call myself a control freak, but I savor complete power of my domain.

I harnessed the power to balance more chess pieces than my engineer friend.  Definitely a fun way to kill time in Miguel's basement when you are sick of playing real chess.

I harnessed the power to balance more chess pieces than my engineer friend. Definitely a fun way to kill time in Miguel’s basement when you are sick of playing real chess.

Welcome to food that you don't have to cook, warmth, and a line for a better toilet.

Welcome to food that you don’t have to cook, warmth, and a line for a better toilet.

Welcome to the party, smelly people, and sometimes dogs pooping on the floor.

Welcome to the party, smelly people, and sometimes dogs pooping on the floor.

Spring break was great, but I didn’t have many good opportunities for climbing after that.  The next weekend was a reenactment of Noah’s Flood; even if you were fortunate not to have your car drown in the lower parking lot, you couldn’t get anywhere because roads all around Slade had rivers running through them.  The following weekend was my last chance to sport climb before taking some time off to focus on music and begin a training cycle for the summer.  I spent both days at Summersville Lake throwing myself at the Pod 5.13b, but I left (once again) empty handed.  It still amazes me that on my second attempt ever on the route I climbed cleanly to the anchors, and struggled to clip for eons before falling.  That weekend on the best attempts, I would climb from the bottom and fall in the middle crux, but I could from a hang:  do the crux, climb to the top, AND CLIP.  I have started training again, and now I have some fresh mental images to remind me to get aggro.

Spring has been a bundle of joy.

Spring has been a Bundle of Joy.

Damnation to Transportation

If you actually go outside to climb on rocks, you most likely have to do some sort of traveling to get from your home to the crag.  In addition to the fact that climbable rock is a precious commodity that isn’t a universal characteristic of local geology, weather and climate are just as important as outcrop or boulder field quality.  If clipping bolts on 5.easy Corbin sandstone in climbing conditions only suitable for tropical tree frogs and attempting to sleep in a pool of your own sweat and fine dirt particles for $2 a night sounds like a great climbing trip, you should go to the Red in July.  Outdoor climbing is driven by location and season, and if you live in the United Sates, you are going to have to drive everywhere.

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The only time to climb on Endless Wall at the New is when there is enough snow on the ground to prevent a Prius from entering in the Nutall parking lot.  (Don’t worry, it doesn’t take much snow.)

Going to school in Oberlin, Ohio has put me over 300 miles from any real rock climbing.  Though the two main destinations are arguably some of the best single pitch crags in the world, it is a haul and traveling takes a toll on the body and mind.  In my effort to pack in as much quality climbing at the Red and the New before graduating and hopefully leaving the relative “closeness”, I have been driving quite a bit.  I have developed a wonderful love/hate relationship with driving, and I have had a ton of time to think about it while getting stuck behind and pissed at people driving slow in the left lane down I-71.  Driving for longer road trips usually doesn’t seem as bad, and as long I make a point to not go overboard with continuous driving, it is somewhat comfortable.  If you have the opportunity to get out of this beautiful, spacious, ridiculous, and diverse country called the United Sates, jump on it and experience the totalitarianism of air travel and cushy rides in trains through scenic countrysides.

This is how I feel after a drive to the airport, three flights, and a train ride.  Yet, I still have to schlep all my bags and gear uphill to the Olive Branch in El Chorro.

This is how I feel after a drive to the airport, three flights, and a train ride. I didn’t sleep, and I lost track of hours.  Yet, I still have to schlep all my bags and gear uphill to the Olive Branch from the train station in El Chorro.  Photo by Carly Broderick.

Many wise people told me when I was just starting to drivers’ education that you truly start learning to drive after you get your license.  They were completely right, and I have been learning through many valuable experiences.  Things I have learned include : the REAL speed limit is 10mph over what is posted, cruise control is God’s gift to driving (once this is realized you can even practice yoga sitting poses in places like Nebraska or South Dakota), THE LEFT LANE IS FOR PASSING, only stop to refuel (eating while driving is ideal, going to the bathroom is more comfortable in the gas station but not mandatory), if you have a driving partner make sure they can drive the car you are traveling (apparently not everyone can drive a standard transmission?)…

One of my favorite cars ever: a Skoda hatchback rented in Barcelona.  This thing tore up Catalunya and made driving between Siurana and Margalef just as fun as the climbing.  The speed camera ticket at the end of the trip wasn't cool, though somehow I never had to pay?  Photo by Carly Broderick.

One of the most badass rides ever: a rental Skoda hatchback. This thing tore up Catalunya and made driving between Siurana and Margalef just as fun as climbing. The speed camera ticket at the end of the trip wasn’t cool, though somehow I never had to pay? Photo by Carly Broderick.

No need to munch on candy bars or gulp down energy drinks because healthy snacks can be enjoyed while driving too.  Simply put salad in your crotch and use your hands.  Photo by Carly Broderick.

No need to munch on candy bars or gulp down energy drinks because healthy snacks can be enjoyed while driving too. Simply put salad in your crotch and use your hands. Photo by Carly Broderick.

Cars can be quite useful if you want to quickly move your tent to snag a better free campsite in Ten Sleep, Wyoming.  Photo by Carly Broderick.

Cars can be quite useful if you want to quickly move your tent to snag a better free campsite in Ten Sleep, Wyoming. Photo by Carly Broderick.

Overall, driving and more generally transportation are a necessary annoyance and blessing to rock climbing.  It consumes time, petroleum, and mental energy, yet it gives us the freedom to climb and explore.  Our vehicles can also become our home, and while I have not adapted my car for climbing and “living the dream”, the amount of time I have spent in my Honda Civic has made it feel very homey.  After just getting back from one of my last weekends of climbing down South because the weather is getting quite warm and my senior recital is quickly approaching, I am happy that I won’t be spending so much time traveling for at least a month.  Thank you car and roads and million-year-old dead plankton for bringing me to beautiful rock climbs and creating wonderful memories.  May my carbon footprint be forgiven for the combustion was not made in vain.

Nothing beats a day at French Cattle Ranch in Ten Sleep followed by sunset dinner on the back of your car.  Photo by Carly Broderick.

Nothing beats a day at French Cattle Ranch in Ten Sleep followed by sunset dinner on the back of your car. Photo by Carly Broderick.