Tag Archives: Oberlin

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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…”