Tag Archives: Spring

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.

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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.