Tag Archives: Spray

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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Return to the Buttery Sickness

For the past three summers, I have raced out west to Ten Sleep, Wyoming to savor the most “American” sport routes located in the magnificent and isolated canyon with its endless vertical walls of pocketed and chert-infested Bighorn dolomite.  During my first trip out West in which I had originally planned to go to Rifle, my friend, Lena, convinced me that I should stop by Ten Sleep.  I was a little skeptical since I had never heard of the place before, but after my first day climbing at French Cattle Ranch, I was completely psyched.  There was a slow start to each summer day as we waited for the shade and crisp air.  The routine was just like Ceuse except mornings were usually spent hanging out in town at a cafe or the amazing Ten Sleep Public Library.  Once everyone had finished their Internet binge, we returned to the canyon (where there is no distracting Internet or cell phone service) to grab our climbing packs, endure the hot hike to the cliff, and experience the “real dope Shinto”.

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Welcome to Ten Sleep Canyon via U.S. Route 16 Cloud Peak Skyway Scenic Byway.

Though, this trip was a little different than what I had experienced the previous years.  Instead of driving with my girlfriend across the desolate wasteland of GMO corn that is the central United States, I was by myself and going to meet one of my best friends from college who had just started climbing.  On top of that, I was not returning back East after Ten Sleep; I was moving to Bishop, California.  My Honda Civic was packed to the brim, and my life felt different in so many subtle ways.  I had just graduated college, and I did not know what to do with my new freedom/responsibilities just like my first days of college.  I had just returned from an amazing European climbing trip, and I felt fired up to get back to a familiar and sentimental place.  Over the past year, I implemented a new approach to my personal training, and this was the perfect time to measure my improvement over the past year on routes that I struggled with before.

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A picturesque Wyoming summer sky.

First on my agenda for my two week trip was to redpoint 5.13c (8a+).  I was still slightly bitter about leaving Ceuse, but now it was time to go all in on Hellion 5.13c.  The route is absolutely awesome and has so many things about climbing that I love: slightly overhanging terrain, a great mono pocket crux, pumpy pocket pulling, and some victory climbing thrown in on your way to the top of the Supererratic Pillar.  (Note: I saw some people climbing all the way on to Great White Behemoth in the opening sequence of Hellion so they could take a much better rest before the crux.  This is significantly easier…)  During my first day, I managed to do the crux sequence twice and figure out the rest of the route.  I felt confident though I was a little surprised that the meat of the route was quite sustained.  Regardless, if Sasha could send this route, so could I…right?

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My new friend, Sam, onsighting the Shinto wall classic Wyoming Flower Child 5.11d. Right after this ascent with barely any rest, Sam went over to the left side of the wall for some more magical Ten Sleep Shinto sickness to onsight her first 5.12a, Dope Shinto.

I had been making consistent progress on Hellion over a few days, but I was repeatedly falling on the last move of the sustained two finger pocket sequence.  A double rest day was in demand, and they involved belaying my friend, Charlie, and going to the crag as the designated photographer.  With fresh skin, rejuvenated muscles, and overwhelming psyche, Charlie and I once again returned to the Superratic Pillar.  I warmed up and felt great.  On my first burn, I fell AGAIN at the same spot; though this time, I realized my own stupidity with this accuracy move to a sinker two finger pocket.  I quickly re-worked my beta, and a simple drop-knee made the move much more consistent.  I lowered down and rested.  As I rested, the winds started to pick up and the sky turned gray.  Initially, I was excited for the cooler than usual conditions, but then, a thunderstorm began roaring through the canyon and droplets of friction-death fell out of the sky like bombs sent to destroy my possibilities of sending.  I knew most of Hellion would initially stay dry, so I quickly tied back in and fully committed to each move.  I cruised through the mono crux which ended up feeling like V2 and rapidly pulled through the following pockets to reach the dreaded pocket stab.  I stuck that damn right hand MR pocket jug, and I was going to the top.   I stopped at the huge double jug rest (all I could think about was the guidebook photo of the mythical Dave Hume staring down this amazing position), and despite my heavy breathing, I didn’t feel pumped.  I relaxed and gave myself time to calm my nerves as I only had one more tricky 5.11 move to do in a sea of jugs.  Then, I felt it.  The rain had reached me, and I started to get wet.  The whole time I was on the route, bolts of lightening were shooting across the dark sky, but I did not feel threatened until the moisture started to coat my skin and drops splashed into my eyes.  Sometimes, people talk about having a hard time determining how long to rest at a certain point on routes.  I wondered about this often on other rests, but clearly, right now was the time to go.  I climbed as quickly as I could and shouldered out the last relatively hard gaston move.  Finally, I was at the top of Hellion getting rained on in a thunderstorm and smiling as I clipped the chains.

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Post-send joy.  Photo by Charlie Marks.

I felt so relieved and amazed that I was able to send Hellion, and like most climbers, my mind started to race about what to climb next.  Two beautiful gold streaks clouded my thoughts as I enjoyed some celebration chocolate in the pouring rain: Sky Pilot 5.13d, one of the king lines of the canyon, and Super Mama 5.13b, an old nemesis from the previous summer.  I had just completed my “big hairy goal” for the summer, and I made the more prudent decision to clean up some routes in my final week.  So after a solid rest day, it was back to Super Mama, and I remembered the beta like it was yesterday as I easily went from bolt to bolt.  I struggled to link key parts of the route the first day, though I got a little closer on the second day.  But, my skin was trashed; Super Mama’s pleasantly abrasive crimps and pockets ate away at me as I flailed.  The smooth and somewhat glassy white face of Hellion was pretty nice because it barely wore away my skin.  Knowing the Super Mama was quite attainable, I once again took the double rest day, and the results were amazing.

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One of my favorite parts of Super Mama: THE “Peanut” hold. This crux involves a left hand bump to a split two finger pocket. I found it easiest to hit it IM, and then twist it to a mono as I gaston to grab a right two finger crimp. Photo by Alan Moles.

I ran up my favorite Lil’ Smokie 5.11 a few times as a nice warm up, and I then took a nice little hike into the woods further down the cliff.  I returned after a few minutes and as I approached Super Mama, I smiled and could not have felt more relaxed as I tied in.  I embraced the starting jug, and my body easily and automatically flowed up the route like an extension of my tranquil hike.  I had no thoughts and each move was perfect.  I felt like I was watching a video of myself climbing until I reached the rest ledge under the final crux when my conscience mind returned to the experience.  After some positive self-talk and an excessive amount of shaking out, auto-pilot was off, and I purposefully grabbed each hold as I set up for the blind deadpoint.  I dug into the razor edges and sprung to stick the jug.

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Carefully balancing myself on a crimp undercling in the final crux. Photo by Alan Moles.

I hopped through some final easy slab moves and let out a euphoric scream while dropping my rope into the open hook and clipping the fixed biner.  After so much thrashing on Super Mama during the previous summer and some bad attempts in the previous days, I was so happy to experienced one of those rare moments where you effortlessly redpoint a route on your first go of the day.  With so much sunlight left in the day, it would be a waste to leave the crag when the conditions were so good.  I tried Pussytoes 5.12d a little and only managed to loose some skin.  Because the next day was my last day climbing in the canyon, I made another prudent choice and pulled off a quick ascent of Kielbasa 5.12c, which was a fun route but not nearly as high quality as Super Mama or Hellion.  Leaving the crag that day was a little sad because I realized I wouldn’t return to French Cattle Ranch until maybe next summer, but overall, I could not have felt better hiking back to camp as I watched the smoky sky glow in the sunset.

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Sticking the final deadpoint on Super Mama 5.13b. Photo by Alan Moles.

On our final day, Charlie and I cooked in the sun while hiking up to the iconic Cigar.  Once again, I had my sights set on two routes that had given me some trouble the previous summer:  Sleep Reaction 5.13a, a roped boulder problem, and The Name of the Game 5.13a, consistent pumpy pocket climbing.  These routes are complete opposites, and last summer while working the routes with my friend, Dan, I couldn’t even do all the moves of Sleep Reaction.  After another great lil’ smokie warmup, I quickly started figuring out the beta, and I became so frustrated until Charlie surprisingly pointed out a possible glassy foot smear near the arête.  It worked perfectly, and I lowered quickly to hastily shake out and re-chalk my hands.  I pulled on and crushed it;  it felt like a V7? boulder problem to 5.9 vert climbing.  I was not done, and I began to feel somewhat cocky.  Like most climbing trips in my experience, you leave with a feeling of incompleteness, and this trip was no different.  I was racing against the approaching darkness to send The Name of the Game on the inside of the Cigar, but I just didn’t have it in me.  I was tired, and I wasn’t climbing as efficiently as I needed to send the route.  Recently, I have developed a preference for bouldery or more sectional routes, yet this sustained face undoubtedly exposed my weakness.  Three desperate efforts filled with aggression did not work, and I accepted defeat.

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Charlie onsighting the classic and over-bolted Euro-trash Girl 5.10b.

Being able to return to Ten Sleep each summer has been so much fun and a great way to measure my improvement in climbing.  Though for many climbers, it seems crazy and/or too difficult to accurately see if they are improving for a few different reasons.  Either they are constantly trying to climb routes that are new to them or their testpiece problems in the gym get stripped every few weeks.  Also, sending a harder grade doesn’t necessarily mean one is improving, and more often, it just means a certain route better suited their strengths.  Following an actual training plan in which I meticulously record what I am doing makes it easy for me to see if I am improving in my day to day workouts.  I am not saying that all climbers should do these things if they want to improve, but doing these things makes the answer to the question “Am I getting better?” painfully clear.  I have derived much satisfaction from addressing my weaknesses through training and then revisiting rock climbs that were difficult for me.  I already know that Sky Pilot is next on my list when I return to Ten Sleep, but for now, I will be spending a lot of time here in Bishop, bouldering mecca.

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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.

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.

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.