Tag Archives: Bouldering

Ending the Boltless Year (Part 2)

Living in a cloud isn’t ideal for rock climbing.  Though once the rain stopped and the overwhelming grayness left our life, Ten Sleep Canyon morphed back into its magical summer state of cool, dry conditions.  There was a little over a week left in the trip, and all I had managed to do was punt off the top slab of Esplanada 5.12d in a sleep-deprived mania.  Taking this short trip to Ten Sleep was partly to observe an emerging personal tradition of making an annual pilgrimage to the glorious carbonate cliffs of Wyoming and partly to see how/if I had grown as a climber.  I decided a good evaluation for this would be to attempt to send Sky Pilot 5.13d.  Sky Pilot is one of the most sought-after lines in Ten Sleep.  It ascends a narrow golden streak located in the middle of Sector D’or et Bleu, the highest quality blue-streaked wall of the canyon.  Consensus seems like it is solid for the grade, and in an area where route “enchancement” is sometimes acceptable, Sky Pilot is completely natural.  The route is engaging: two stacked cruxes on amazing pockets, a decent but not quite relaxing rest in the middle, some consistent face climbing to reach another okay rest below the anchor, and an exciting (heartbreaking) finish move to an epic jug lost in a sea of tiny pockets and crimps.

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Enjoying the opening boulder problem in the blue rock of Sky Pilot.  Photo by Charles Marks.

The first day on Sky Pilot solidified my confidence.  I managed to do all the moves, and in typical boulderer fashion, half of them were twice as hard as they needed to be.  Unfortunately, I wish I had known earlier that these sequences were too hard for me to execute together.  I turned the opening V6/7 crux which uses mono pockets as intermediates into a solid V8 in which I locked off a sharp one pad mono pocket, and quite late in the game (the last day of the trip), I figured out that I didn’t have to dyno to the finish jug, which I had tried and missed four times from the ground.  Fortunately, I eventually realized easier ways before the trip was over, and I was reminded of an important lesson:  always find the most efficient and consistent way to climb.

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This is how you can make the finish sequence harder than it should be especially when you lack endurance.  Photo by Charles Marks.

I knew I could send Sky Pilot during this trip, and I was quite patient in the whole process.  Even after a random rest day involving some freak stomach flu in which I couldn’t move for about 12 hours without vomiting, I remained positive, chugged some ginger kombucha, and was more than psyched to climb a route that I had always walked past with dreams of sinking my chalky digits into its snug pockets.  On the last day of the trip, with a looming 16 hour drive back to the fiery inferno of the Eastern Sierra, coming off of the previous climbing day having fallen with my fingers tickling the finish jug three times, I knew I had to focus or be prepared to deal with excessive self-shaming and a validation of how much I suck.  While not a healthy behavior that I sometimes engage in, I have accepted my negative reinforcement as inevitable when I fail in something that I care about.  Simultaneously, I have learned that it is best to make it as brief as possible and to avoid bringing the amazing people around me into my temporary self-destruction.

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Such a juicy mono pocket in the opening boulder problem.  Ohhh but pockets are tweaky, I don’t like them, why don’t you set some more running jump start sideways dyno to sloper-volume problems, they flow better… Photo by Charles Marks.

First attempt of the day:  fall on last move on a perfect burn…dynoing there is stupid…you are can figure out something better…yes, you can lock off a sinker two finger to statically reach the finish jug.  Then, it starts to thunder, and my mind starts to race.  I felt like the worst friend for being distracted, quiet, and completely worried about whether or not I would be able to give my project another attempt with the possibility of rain when I should have reciprocated the supportiveness of my best friends as they enjoyed their last hard-fought efforts.  It doesn’t rain, and I proceed to give Sky Pilot the most anxious and sloppy attempts ever.  Yeah, chill out for a while, eat some chocolate, drink some water, give it one last try, and APPRECIATE being with two of your best friends in one of the most awesome places in the world.

I had completed my only goal of the trip…in the final hour…on my last try (its always on the last try?).  I felt bad in some ways that Charlie and Aaron had supported my efforts, and it might have to do with spending so much time bouldering by myself in the last year knowing that my projects were always a completely selfish endeavor.  Or it might have been the self-imposed separation from the people around me?  Or it might have been the feeling that someone I loved left my life?  They shouldn’t have wasted their time on me.  Is this what too much time by yourself does?  You end up wanting to be around people, yet when you are with your friends, your inconsiderate habits emerge unintentionally after the tendencies have been repetitively reinforced?  Some people have told me that I should use my time alone to better understand myself…I have dealt with too much of this time while my brain has started to melt in this high desert void.  I want to be better at balancing my thoughts and avoiding the worried distractions of the ego.  I want to consistently be a supportive partner who sincerely wants others to succeed.  I don’t think I am a terrible person for dealing with egotistical thoughts, but I feel like I have recently become more aware of how I interact with my community.  Let me practice something that I think I am starting to grasp.  Navigating this newly realized individuality and loneliness of my life is a project that won’t ever be sent.  One can only hope for some good days when you link a bunch of moves.

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Ending the Boltless Year (Part 1)

Since the first day that I tied into some jug-filled toprope at Kendall Cliffs after a draining high school track practice, I became deeply and constantly curious about how other people got “stronger” and what I could learn to benefit myself.  By “stronger” I mean “better at climbing”, and this is a somewhat normal phenomenon in an activity in which an individual’s mental, technical, and physical abilities are tested on common ground with other participants.  Most of my climbing life has revolved around progressing on single-pitch routes.  For five years, I had great access and supportive partners to explore the endless cragging of the Red and New River Gorge.  But, I learned quickly that there were more efficient ways to get better at climbing than simply climbing all the time.

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Peace Frog 5.12d at the Sanctuary.  An interesting double heel-toe cam move out the roof at the start leads to a characteristic overhang of iron oxide jug slots at the Red River Gorge.  Photo by Paris Achenbach.

As was my tradition of spending the week-long, mid-semester breaks in college at a climbing destination, I clearly remember the last week of March 2012 at the Red.  The weather was surprisingly good, and though I had ventured down to Miguel’s by myself, I had quickly found great friends and reliable climbing partners.  Besides having a good time climbing and experiencing some personal best performances, I also remember a specific day at the Undertow Wall.

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My friend Andrew cruising up the Bob Marley crag classic, Dogleg 5.12a

As I lay on a comfy slab of Corbin sandstone waiting for another burn on the Kentucky classic, Ale-8-One 5.12b, and weighing the benefits of certain rests between sections of the route, another climber rolled up to the Undertow Wall and asked if he could take a lap up the route on my draws.  It wasn’t a problem at all as I was still pumped from getting spit off 2/3 of the way up the route on my previous attempt, and I gladly shared the route.  As he started to tie in, I recognized that he was Brad Weaver and was one of the elite climbers in the Southeast.  I began to analyze everything a little more carefully and started to remember reading about him taking years completely off of sport climbing to…boulder.  Sport climbing at the Red is about endurance; why would anyone do that? I was still pumped in that moment; how could someone think that it would be a good idea to avoid endurance training to progress at an area known for its unrelenting style.  Five minutes passed as I watched Brad Weaver warm up on my project without bulging a forearm vein.  At the end of my spring break, I did manage to redpoint Ale-8-One, my first 5.12b, and it felt hard as I could barely clip the chains.  More importantly, I began to realize that there might be something to be gained from investing some time strictly devoted to bouldering.

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I miss my mohawk and rest days at the Wild Turkey Distillery.  Photo by Andrew Freeman

Last summer, I had one of the best times of my life which was filled with exclusively sport climbing from finishing a good spring season at the Red, followed by the continuous and beautiful beat-down of Ceuse, and ending with the American glory of Ten Sleep.  I have always been attracted to more sectional or bouldery routes, and I had decided that I would move to Bishop and immerse myself in its bouldering mecca greatness.  My initial plan was to spend fall through winter bouldering while figuring out some organized training plan that would cater to the progress I wanted and what I could tolerate mentally.  Often, the balance of training and the daily fun (stress relief from life) is something that is overlooked when you first are really psyched making your plan.  During my first months, I learned that I needed to be doing more actual climbing, and that the typical linear training plan that was easy and effective for sport climbing in an area with very specific climbing seasons was not as effective for bouldering in which a high level of technical skills, POWER, and weird (often hard to train in an exercise)  body strengths are necessary all the time.  Winter slowly melted in spring, and I had become so clearly identifying as a boulderer that I didn’t feel like dealing with the logistics of cragging or big days out climbing in the mountains.  Bouldering is so freaking simple, very high quality, and easily accessible in the Eastern Sierra, and I saw no reason nor had any motivation to do anything else.  My plan of bouldering through winter turned into a year hiatus from clipping bolts.  Many of my new friends didn’t believe that I had ever climbed on a rope in my life.  I only used a rope to climb two times in the last year, and they were both 5.7 traditional climbs in Tuolumne Meadows involving a significant amount of simul-climbing:  Matthes Crest and Euphoria on Pennyroyal Arches.

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Some of the best bouldering on the Eastside.  Mantling out the slopey topout of Soul Severity V6 at the Smolko Boulder under the Wheeler Crest.  It felt amazing to climb these beautiful lines put up years ago by fellow Ohioan and motivating climbing partner Damon Smolko.  Photo by Kyle Queener.

Currently, I am sitting in the typical climber Internet spot/shelter from the elements:  the Ten Sleep Public Library.  When my best friend Charlie suggested at the beginning of summer that we take a trip back to Ten Sleep, it seemed so natural and like a great way to see how I have changed in the past year.  Ten Sleep has become this consistent feature of my life, and it feels so good to be here.  Though, getting here was borderline painful.  After Charlie made espresso drinks all afternoon and I grinded through another 9 hour shift at the Gear Exchange, we quickly loaded up his van and drove 16 hours through the night.  Stopping only to switch drivers and get some tasty coffee and pastries at Lander Bake Shop, the psyche-fueled drive left us drained.  Yet, nothing could stop us, and we drove straight to the French Cattle Ranch parking lot and loaded up our packs for an evening of sport climbing.  I felt vey confused while I placed my rope and shiny new sport draws in my pack; it seemed like I was forgetting some integral piece of climbing equipment.  Regardless, we crushed the approach up to the Grasshopper Wall.  We both decided that it was quite fitting and somewhat comical that we climb the short, three bolts in length, and four-move crux right off the ground “route”, Lil’ Smokie 5.11.  (Volcanic Tableland V2) I love this mini-route, and I find the other Lil’ Smokie routes a worthwhile and quirky experience of the climbing in Ten Sleep.  After I ran several laps on the classic Lil’ Smokie, I was so psyched to be sport climbing again, though with only maybe 2 hours of sleep while getting tossed around in the back of the speeding van, I was falling asleep sitting on the nicely arranged rocks at the base of the cliff.  Esplanada 5.12d, a hard for the grade and continuous face climb, seemed like a good idea?  I had never sent the route before; I had always overlooked this area classic in favor of harder routes.  I didn’t remember the route having any hard moves, and I proceeded to hang the draws.  As expected, the moves felt too easy.  I usually warmup on problems with moves that are significantly harder, and the footholds on the route felt huge.  Despite this impression of the route, I managed to punt off the upper slab crux twice.  Still about to fall asleep between my pathetic burns on Esplanada, I gave up for the day in favor of eating and sleeping.

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This route has been on my mind for a year, and I cannot wait to see how it feels.

Waiting out the heavy rainstorms seems quite foreign after having lived in the Eastern Sierra for a year, but I remind myself that the beautiful blue streaks of Bighorn dolomite will be prime in cooler conditions tomorrow.  My body will also probably be better suited for physical activity too.  I know I am stronger in many ways, but in order to realize this improvement, I need to refresh those rusty route climbing skills and more importantly, enjoy being back in one of my favorite places in the world.

An Interpretation

One of my favorite things about rock climbing is that it gives people an opportunity to creatively interact with the soul of the Earth.  The Earth is a massive rock flying through space around a ball of lethal and life-giving fire.  This rock has a pleasantly crunchy shell, gooey inner bits, and a hazelnut surprise of solid iron.  Earth is the rock we share and need.  Over billions of years and in many dramatically different ways, Earth recycles and creates new forms of all its tiny pieces.  Rock layers are preserved right under our feet, and in some lucky locations, we can see the past.  These outcrops are the place of worship for rock climbers.  We appreciate and savor the steep cliffs with just enough imperfections that only allow our bodies to climb it perfectly.  We embrace and carefully caress with boar’s hair brushes chunky boulders that have been broken and separated from their stratigraphic family.  Climbing outside and directly connecting with the Earth is amazing, and the artistic process of finding, cleaning, and interpreting rocks while preserving the environment for future generations to love is a journey that I will enjoy for the rest of my life.

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This set of boulders in Elyria, Ohio has captured my imagination.  The left boulder in the foreground is a nice warmup that has most likely been done before and probably around V3/4.  The “king line” in the center is unbelievable, and I foresee a Vdouble-digit straight up the arête and a V5/6 compression problem just right of the arête.  Both would topout at around 25ft.  The knobby wall on the right is dead-vertical and has some of the most unique sandstone holds I have ever seen, and it is another Vdouble-digit project.

In the midst of finishing my undergraduate education at Oberlin, training in preparation for my carbonate-crammed summer, and attempting to make plans for my immediate future, I manically rushed around Northeast Ohio trying to find new potential projects and revisiting an area testpiece. Despite having a limited amount of quality rock and annoying yet justly flouted access issues, many climbers in the region go crazy about finding first ascents, and sometimes, community members act in excessively secretive ways and/or lie about random rocks they found/climbed in the woods. There aren’t many people in the climbing community here that would go outside to boulder, and I truly think that almost every climbing area in the region could benefit from a stronger climbing presence, even the places where the park systems criminalize climbers. Trying to work with the parks is hopeless. While some climbers are abstaining from enjoying the natural wonders (that we are already paying for with our taxes) in order to establish a better relationship with a bureaucratic entity that probably won’t change their uninformed and idiotic opinions, there are amazing artists ruining our rock with spray paint. These wonderful people should definitely be rewarded for their thoughtful contributions.

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The Pharaoh V4 is one of the best boulders at Bedford Reservation. Found and sent by Tony Accuardi…ruined by SAMO. Photos by Tony Accuardi.

Isn’t it great how this beautiful sandstone block now looks like any dumpster in East Cleveland? I know the Cleveland Metroparks are upset about this…wait no they just want to penalize and prevent climbers from having some fun on the rocks. They do a much better job with that. Seriously, if climbers were allowed to be an active presence in the parks, there would be fewer dumbasses trashing our dearly valued geological gifts. This destruction is what makes me more mad than the silly regulations regarding climbing access. After finding this “new rock” in Elyria, it would deeply hurt me to see it get tagged because it completely changes the rock texture and annihilates the natural aesthetic. I am not naïve, and I understand that thinking you are the first to find some climbable boulder in Northeast Ohio is usually ridiculous. Though depending on the difficulty, a new interpretation is always possible.

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Another shot of THE Arête.

Another shot of THE Arête.

I am completely mesmerized by this boulder and would hate for it to see the same fate as The Pharaoh.  The rock quality is amazing, and there are opportunities for hard, highball bouldering.  There are some logistical problems at the moment because there are no trees or places for natural protection on top of the boulder to build an anchor for cleaning and working the lines.  Though with some work, this will be one of the best boulders in all of Ohio.

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Looking up at the sculpted knobs of the project next to the massive arête in Elyria.

Most climbing areas have routes or problems that are legendary.  They are rarely repeated, difficult, and often the most aesthetic.  For Chippewa Creek in Brecksville, it is the Gem.  From what I have heard, it has been climbed by two people and goes around V11 (there is a right variation that is around V6, and despite what some people think, they have not climbed the true line that traverses left and tops out straight up on the faint arête).  It is located in the river, and the landing occasionally gets washed away during flooding.  After some caveman-style construction this spring, the landing is solid, and you can throw some pads down without having them float away.  Despite my best efforts, I could not find a good way to get up the arête.  Maybe I will be back with stronger fingers, smarter tactics, and more suitable conditions in the late fall or winter?

Dave Schultz cranking out the opening moves of the Gem.

Dave Schultz crimping out the opening moves of the Gem.

Over the course of three days down in Ohio’s Amish Country, I had so much fun visiting a secluded area, repeating some quality boulder problems, scrubbing new lines, trying existing projects, and eventually getting the first ascent of a (sick, rad, gnarly, intense, aesthetic, unbelievable, beautiful, perfect, classic) line.  As it was my first time in this amazing area, my friend Damon, who was one of the first developers, was a great guide and provided immense support while we explored the densely forested and mosquito infested hills and valleys of Holmes County in search of quality boulders.

Smooth cross sequence on 80 Proof V7/8 going out Scotch Roof.  This was the second ascent, and the finish over the lip was quite PEATY after not being cleaned for several years.

Smooth cross sequence on 80 Proof V7/8 going out Scotch Roof. This was the second ascent, and the finish over the lip was quite PEATY after not being cleaned for several years.  Photos by Damon Smolko.

I had seen pictures of a very clean 45 degree wall in the Amish Country area years before I had been there.  Damon said that it was about V8, and I had always been extremely excited to climb it.  It was the only and best problem in my mind even before I had seen it in the flesh and lost flesh on its abrasive crimps.  During my first day out, I got a sampling of all the different problems in the mostly unconcentrated area.  I had finished my last hangboard workout the day before, and even climbing easy problems felt hard. So, it was a good opportunity to remove cobwebs, brush holds, and scrape moss.  A few days later, we went out again and I managed to figure out all the moves of the 45 wall project.  I couldn’t contain my nervous excitement, and on the send-go after pulling the crux, I stupidly forgot I could match my right hand to a good hold to setup for the topout sequence.  I got anxious and threw half-heartedly to a hold that looked like a jug and fell.  It was such a stupid mistake, but I was sure I had it on the next go.  I rested and relaxed.  On my next attempt, I felt perfect, and while pulling through the middle section, I ripped an important incut crimp right off the boulder.  It was devastating, but I was still psyched and immediately tried to figure out another sequence.  Nothing really worked as I was getting more tired, and I also broke off another small hold.  I eventually lost motivation, but I did finish the day with a quick send of 80 Proof V7/8 over at Scotch Roof.

After finishing the last final exams of my undergraduate education, I drove down to Amish Country with a great of sense of relief and freedom.  Damon couldn’t come with me, but I was determined to send the 45 wall problem and knew I would be okay without a spotter.  After warming up, I started trying to figure a new sequence for the middle section of the project.  A long deadpoint from high feet to an incut crimp worked well, but I needed to rehearse it efficiently because skin was a precious commodity on the fresh sandstone.  I made some attempts, but I wasn’t sticking the move from the start and even started regressing on the opening moves.  I finally decided that I might as well yell to grip the hold rather than from experiencing more pain while falling off the move, and it worked perfectly.  I couldn’t believe what I had done, and I was filled with happiness as I kissed the maple tree on top of the boulder.  I frantically texted Damon that I had sent it, and he had already thought of a perfect name for the problem, Rumspringa.

It felt great to get the first ascent of a boulder problem in my home state, and I still can’t believe that this beautiful sandstone block exists in Ohio.  I have never seen another boulder like it in the whole state.  Crimps on steep terrain is one of my favorite climbing styles, and this problem fit me well.  The grade seems around V9, and a lower start on the right side that would link into Rumspringa still needs to be done.  I am so thankful that I could participate in route development in Ohio and that I have great friends who share my excitement for climbing.  This on top of graduating double-degree from Oberlin and having a loving and supportive family has made my spring beyond awesome.  I am currently hanging out at the Camping Zoo in Arco, Italy and trying to find partners to go sport climbing.  Though I will be traveling most of the summer, I will always miss Northeast Ohio.

Sticking the crux of Rumspringa V9.

Sticking the crux of Rumspringa V9.

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.

So Close

With spring quickly approaching, I was reminded of the projects that still have not been completed in my own backyard.  Once the final piles of snow melt away and the seeping sandstone dries, Chippewa Creek will be in prime season.  Right before Christmas (in this post), I made some progress on the “Ecoterrorist” project.  With some alternate beta involving a throw straight up to a sloping ledge, I got pretty close, but closeness doesn’t mean anything until the move is stuck.  “Oh yeah, I ALMOST onsighted that route, but I fell…I am really close to linking all moves, but I just get really pumped…”  Anyways, for me, once I stick the sloper, I just have to match and mantle through a dirty topout.  I also have a feeling that the face of this project is probably pretty dirty again.  I want to also thank those who were involved with cleaning this line and more importantly, building the landing.  I am extremely grateful for the amount of work that went into it while risking legal consequences of getting caught in the act (of cleaning a rock face for people to enjoy in their parks where climbing is criminalized, NOT defacing a beautiful natural feature by spray-painting profanities or your initials.  But, climbers are the real problem in Northeast Ohio parks; we should really crack down on their senseless actions that are ruining our community).  Back in December, I thought I was going to send the project; the conditions were perfect, I felt pretty strong, and I was so psyched to just go all out on it.  The result was a video of a bunch of failed attempts and feeling pretty tired.

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.