Nicole and I haven’t been back on the rocks for long, but we’ve already encountered the toughest part of a climbing season.
It is totally inevitable for dedicated climbers to face low periods in motivation; it only matters that we attack this and move forward. Some of us can simply will ourselves into activity, others need a friend to push them. Knowing that you’re in a little funk is the first critical step to getting out of it, so we’re endeavoring to move forward.
Nicole’s lack of motivation is probably the easiest to understand. Her cold has been far from totally debilitating, but enough to keep her from feeling like she can perform. She’s also still a little worried about another recurrence of the injury of her forearm, and she really wishes that she was in the superb condition that she found herself in when we were last in Bishop. Seven months of only indoor climbing will really leave you at your low water mark; especially if you’re not sure that you’ll be healthy when you leave. We still hope for the best, and should know soon how she is doing.
My problem is fairly typical, but difficult to overcome. My motivation really has a major ebb and flow, sometimes requiring me to find an inspiring project, or manage a climb that scares me badly. Most often my stoke will build just knowing that we both love the area we’re in. Sadly, this isn’t the case so far.
The weather sucked in the New. Big time. Our normal course of action when the weather is bad is to freak out, make a rash decision about where to go, and laugh our asses off when it turns out that we wound up in an even worse situation. This time we freaked out, made a rash decision, and wound up in a place that is…ok. I don’t want to whine; our self-selected life style is awesome. We’re very fortunate to do what we’re doing and certainly aren’t ready to trade it yet. But so far, this trip is shaping up to be better known for its difficulties than its triumphs.
Really, the humor of the situation is kind of grey. We don’t mind being out to climb, but we’re just plain bemused about the North Carolina climbing scene. Not to be judgmental, but we’ve traveled pretty extensively and experienced some great destinations at this point. We’re picky. So when I read descriptions decrying the lack of national (and international) attention for Rumbling Bald I decide it is time to check this place out. I hear all the time that North Carolina climbers don’t like to share a lot of beta. They don’t want the wild hordes to descend on their crags they call jewel boxes. This is…almost laughable. Almost. Look, I think the setting is gorgeous, the weather isn’t terrible, but the stone is just ok. Being generous, I would give it two stars out of five. This isn’t to say that there aren’t some outlying blocs that are excellent. Nor is it a total indictment of the area. I mean, we considered the stone in Font to be largely 4 star with some superb blocs. We considered Bishop (a fantastic destination by the way) to be 3 stars, with some major exceptions both above and below. And I even managed to have some fun in Moe’s, though it is largely 0 star stone trending to 1 star on occasion.
So I can put up with low quality stone, I can even put up with people claiming that it is owed its due. What I can’t stand is the attitude that it should both be owed something and be protected from the masses. Even Rocktown (the best stone we’ve climbed, period) had no guidebook until very recently. This did absolutely nothing to reduce its popularity. So it is clear there is already a reason that the Bald is not already considered an elite climbing destination.
First, the camping in the area is incredibly limited. We got some beta that we could car camp nearby, but that wound up falling through. $20 bucks a night is far too much for a tent in the dirt. No way you’re going to get traveling climbers to pay that for a relative unknown.
The second is the difficulty of finding appealing climbs. I mean, there is a published guidebook now, but the major beta for the development since then is pretty difficult to come across. Supposedly there are now roughly 1500 problems in the area. If the existing guide is any indication as to the new lines, most of them will be variations. There are quite a few listed problems that are no more than one move different. Sometimes as many as six variations are listed to a single problem. This certainly isn’t a huge deal, but it definitely isn’t for everyone. The rock quality is low in some areas, decent in others, and pretty good in a few. People certainly aren’t going to travel all the way out here for a few stunning problems.
Of course, the weather plays a role in Rumbling Bald’s popularity. When you consider the in season for the Bald, you have to remember that the direct competition lies in Hueco, Bishop, and to a lesser degree Stone Fort, HP40, Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, Font, and Rocktown. Why would anyone non-native to North Carolina deal with the camping hassles when many of these other areas are far easier? Further, why would you sacrifice quality of both climbing and stone to come to the Bald? The season really makes it tough for the Bald to ever gain any major traction.
When you consider the lack of quality in stone, the lack of variety, and the competition, the state of Rumbling Bald is no major surprise. Of course, all of this seems to fall really far from my initial points about low motivation levels. It is all connected, at least for me. I’m just plain uninspired by the climbing and the scene. I’m dreaming of our future in Rocktown.
Now I’ll freely admit that I’ve probably been a bit hasty in my criticism of the Bald. We’ve only had two days of bouldering, and that surely isn’t enough to write off an entire area. We’re just waiting for the switch to flip and the fire to light. I know it will, as soon as I find the right line. If all I do here in North Carolina is get in the shape I need to be when that inspiration strikes, the time won’t have been wasted. Until that time, we’re fighting hard to put ourselves in position to succeed.
We’ll keep working hard out here, and can’t wait to let you know that we found that spark of inspiration. We’re ready to share some success!
Hey, strangers! So, we’re home… here is a recap of the last few weeks.
Our final ten days in Bishop were spent exploring new territory and seeking shelter from winter storms. We actually wound up breaking our tent… yeah, the six week old one. Both xippers have broken (fly and tent door) and one of the poles is cracked. The desert is a harsh environment for tents. However, six weeks doesn’t seem an appropriate life time for a four season tent that we were told was specifically built for these conditions. We happily returned this REI model for a new one during our Vegas visit.
Back to Bishop climbing… We gave up projecting in favor of volume and had a hay day doing so. Chris loved Suspended in Silence, a super high-ball in the Pollen Grains that begins with a six-foot long dyno. Needless to say, I skipped that one. My two favorite lines were Cuban Roll and Green Hornet at Dale’s Camp. Both were on the tall side with superb movement. Chris and I came heart-breakingly close to nailing Swanky Sit and Finder’s Fee, respectively, but it all came down to time. We just didn’t have enough of it left to finish everything we wanted to. We did manage to make very quick work of Cindy Swank, though. We also briefly tried Gastonia and Zen Flute at Dale’s Camp, both which need to be sent next trip. Given how much the weather was getting in the way of our climbing (we rarely were able to climb two days in a row), the low pressure setting was the right choice.
Unfortunately, Chris and I both began to struggle with injuries at the end of our Bishop extended stay. I have what feels like carpal-tunnel in my left wrist. No idea whether it is related to my previous injury. All the crimping out in the Buttermilks I think really did me in. Chris damaged a pulley on his pinky finger the last day we were in Bishop. It was an incredibly cold and blustery day, so I’m guessing we simply didn’t take enough time to warm up.
We headed out to Vegas on March 21st to meet my dad and Kevin for a few days of sport climbing. Dad flew in the evening of the 21st, while Kevin arrived the following afternoon. Chris and I got up early to make the drive to Vegas, checked into our room, and dropped most of our items off in order to make room for my dad and his luggage. We only had two seats in the car (the back seats had been removed for increased stowing capacity), so I elected Chris chauffeur to pick up my dad. Driving in Vegas sucks. The GPS stupidly took him through the strip, making him a half an hour late to pick up Dad. Oops.
Once Dad arrived at the hotel, he was anxious to grab a bite to eat as it was already 8pm Indy time. We walked across the street and hit up the same pizza place as during the Obama ordeal. Boy, was I happy to endure a whole lot less drama this time around!
Kevin arrived safe and sound the following afternoon, and we nabbed a quick, crappy sub before running out to the crag. We attempted to avoid the crowds (and the blazing sun) by climbing at a shady wall with about six routes which required a 20min approach. The day went very well all in all, and the boys were able to get their feet back under them. We ate at Kevin’s favorite Vegas restaurant, a thai place (we always forget the name).
The next day started off like any other. Well, except that I got yelled at by the breakfast staff for taking ‘too much salsa’. The hotel provides a breakfast buffet, and every morning I eat two whole-wheat english muffins with salsa on top. I’m weird like that. The salsa is quite good and fresh. Evidently, however, three tablespoons of salsa is more than my fair share. One of the staff got in my face, raising her voice and wagging her fat finger at me. In front of all other guests in the dining area. Humiliating. I guess the salsa is there for show???
I got the hell out of there and we drove to Kraft Mountain. We jumped on two 5.9s before multiple groups began to show up, scowling at us for taking up two lines. So it goes. We were forced to endure terrible music playing on someone’s iPhone the entire time.
Once we had climbed and cleaned the routes, we trotted over to what was supposed to be a nice 5.10. Turns out it was ridiculously run out with no anchors… top-out style. We vetoed that and took a looong, strenuous hike up the wash and over numerous boulders to a pretty, dark, heavily varnished wall with two 5.10s. I rope-gunned the easier of the two, a ‘5.10c’. Yeah, right. I cried the entire way up it. I came down and anxiously handed the rope over to my Dad to see how he would navigate the climb. Dad and Kevin have become much more accustomed to searching for sequences outside of the bolt line in true Vegas style. I’m not nearly as brave, which turned out to be a blessing.
Dad definitely identified easier terrain through a couple of cruxy sections. I was proud of them for that, and shook my head at my tunnel vision. However, at the little roof section 3/4 of the way up the route, even Dad got stuck. He eventually found a giant jug 10ft off route to the left, and dynoed over there. Good thing he stuck it! He sailed his way up to the top and lowered off, chuckling to himself and blaming Kevin for letting him lead the pitch.
Kevin roped up and displayed even more audacity. He consistently wandered 10-12ft away from the bolt line in search of 5.9 sized holds. It got the best of him at the roof section, though. He traversed way, way right to a chossy band of stone, and decided it would be a perfectly good bit to ascend to the chains. Um, not. The foot he was using broke off, sending him sailing and penduluming onto the slab below. He ended up badly straining an ankle. Initially, he was in so much pain that we were worried his ankle might be broken. Given our approach, we were all very worried about getting him out of there. Luckily, he and dad worked to bandage his ankle and get it in his boot. Chris pulled on the draws all the way up the climb to reach the anchors as soon as possible and retrieve our gear. Dad and Kevin got started on the hike out while Chris was climbing. Once Chris and I had finished packing up, I grabbed Kevin’s pack and we headed out.
We were surprised that we didn’t catch up with Kevin until we got to the car. We hopped in the car, picked up some first aid stuff at the grocery, and spent the evening doctoring Kevin up with ice, alcohol, and yogurt. Kevin even ate out of the dispenser.
Kevin was unfit to climb the following day, so Dad, Chris and I headed back out to Calico Hills to a new area. We found some stellar routes and had a blast. We warmed up on a 100′ 5.7 that involved a hellish approach. Next up was the thinnest 5.9 that I have ever been on. Clearly, a lot of the varnish had broken off. The thing felt more 5.11 than 5.9 to me! Dad led it in style, putting his new Katana laces to the test. We had suggested he pick them up, noticing how much his footwork improved when transitioning from an Evolv Pontas to the Sportiva Miura. We figured an even stiffer shoe might suit him even better. We were right! He fell in love with the Katanas in Vegas.
We walked back down to Cannibal Crag which housed several moderate climbs. Unfortunately, as the guidebook warned, the place was packed. I couldn’t believe we lucked out enough to find the 5.10a open. Dad floated that pitch! We hopped on a tricky 5.9, too, with a 30ft climb to the first bolt. Courageous Dad rope-gunned it and onsighted it.
Finally, another hellish approach led us to a 5.10b with two stars. The bottom of the climb needed some cleaning, but it was a fun pitch nonetheless. It was very pumpy and powerful, so not the best climb to end the day on, but so it goes. Dad made it to the second to last bolt before pumping out. He ran it to the chains and told us to take note of that route because he wants to come back and get it clean. Hell yeah!
The two old dudes flew out the next morning. Chris and I talked and decided we were better off going home, too. We were both having trouble with our injuries on even 5.7, and we all know how hard it is to rest while on a bouldering road trip. We figured we’d go home, rest up, and climb in one of dozens of bouldering areas around us (IL, NC, GA, AL, AR, etc) if we were feeling up to it. It has been a week, and Chris seems to be improving. I scheduled an appointment with a hand specialist for Thursday, so I’m anxious to hear what he thinks.
We’re awfully sad not to have made it to Joe’s this trip, but we will soon! Gotta take care of our bodies first. Sometimes, you just run in to bad luck. We hope to be back at it as soon as possible!
After two days off to let the wind settle, we were back out in the Buttermilks. We had a FABULOUS day at Get Carter yesterday. Get Carter is a big boulder behind the Buttermilks main area, and stands all on its own. There are several other boulders around it, but for some reason or other they have yet to be developed. It was around 65 degrees, sunny, with the harder problems on the shaded side of the boulder. We warmed up on a pretty, heavily patinaed face which involved some funky movement. The rock was cold and grainy. I knew from the beginning that I was likely to screw my tips over for climbing the following day, but I was ok with it.
We moved on to an even more crystalline V3 with gigantic spans between good holds. A cool Canadian dude had just pulled up as we were throwing our pads down at the base and joined us. I had to stack pads to reach the first hold, then shredded my fingers while trying to crimp a group of crystals on the overhanging face in order to get up to the next big jug. My skin was burning after just a few attempts on that sucker. Chris quickly deciphered the tall boy beta and made it look easy. The Canadian guy, about Chris’ size, shook his way up the flash. Nicely done! I’ve never seen anyone tremble more than Chris whilst climbing.
Next on the agenda was a high-ball V4 named Grommit, located above a large rock slab, meriting one ‘spook’. (Guidebooks often give ‘danger’ icons on climbs where falls are likely to produce injury. The Bishop guidebook gives 0 to 3 such icons based on how sketchy the landing is and how tall the problem is.) I felt pretty confident given the Canadian dude’s additional two large Flashed pads. I let the boys play around on the line first, as I was feeling a little shy after my punt on the V3. I eventually swallowed my pride, got up, and found a novel way of climbing Grommit. I came really close on the first burn, then finished it up on the second. It was a STELLAR line. Very highly recommended! Can’t believe I forgot to take pictures again…
While we were on Grommit, two new groups of climbers showed up for Seven Spanish Angels, the main attraction of Get Carter. In total throughout the day, five groups of climbers showed up ONLY to climb this problem. I found it funny since there are so many quality lines on this boulder. Oh well, I could hardly complain since the ‘crowds’ didn’t bother us any!
Chris joined in on the gang bang at Seven Spanish Angels, sending the problem in only three goes. With the ocean of pads at the base, I was hardly worried about moving things around or spotting, so I stood behind and took pictures/video. Unfortunately, Chris somehow managed to miss the pads on his second go and landed in a little hole between pads, wrenching his knee. Guess I learned my lesson… When people are used to having twenty-seven pads at the base of a climb, they pay no attention as to where the climber might fall and become too complacent to move pads. Next time I won’t be so negligent.
We sought out shade and solitude on the Get Carter problem. The line climbs an overhanging face before turning the lip and finishing up on a very thin slab. I found out today that most people turn the lip early and veer right onto the patina plates. I stupidly followed the lip left and up a dirty, rarely trafficked face. I wanted the full-value, man!
Chris worked Twin Cracks, a buuurly climb that ascends two parallel vertical cracks. He Sharma-yelled and made good progress. He is excited to get back on and finish that sucker!
Surprisingly, it was late afternoon by this point and our tips were trashed. We headed back to camp, hung out, made dinner, then Chris broke the hose on the propane tank. Oops. We were planning on climbing at Painted Cave today, but since we had no way to make coffee AND were feeling as though our tips were dipped in boiling water, we are taking the day off. Chris is out of cookies, too. Lord knows we can’t climb without cookies!
The last two days were BEAUTIFUL. We finally got outside the main Buttermilks area and ventured into the Checkerboard area. The first day we got shut down by two odd-ball warm-up problems. They were a lot of fun to work, but they had no mercy on our skin.
The V0 on the corner of the boulder was fairly straight forward, a foot-work dependent piece.
The V2 around to the left of the V0 began on a crescent shaped hold at about 7ft. It forced you to hand-foot match, then rock over on that foot and press out a mantle. Neither of us were able to finish it, but it was fun to play around on. We saw steady improvements. New project! Wish I had pictures, but I was too busy laughing.
The final warm-up was a V3 that started on two nasty slopers at the lip of the boulder, at about 7ft. I was able to throw a heel right by my right hand, lock off and bump to a tiny zenolith with my right hand, continue locking off and bump again with the right hand to a larger but worse xenolith about two feet above my left hand. Once there, I tried to press up with my left hand to reach up higher to a third and more positive xenolith with my right hand. Every time I almost grabbed it, though, my right foot went skidding. I got a nasty cut on my ankle, and didn’t notice how badly it was bleeding until too late. Blood was pooling in my shoe. Oh yes, lovely. I will have to go back and finish those warm-ups!
The main attraction of the area for Chris and me was Freeze Short, a power endurance crimp/sloper fest. It involved long lock-offs one after the other before finishing above the lip of the boulder on terrible slopers. Chris and I made great progress on the climb. Unfortunately, it was incredibly grainy and shredded our skin in just half a dozen attempts. Chris was linking to the lip, but I was struggling with the first large lock-off. We decided to save some skin for the next day and wrapped it up early. We hung out, threw rocks, goofed off, and read for the remainder of the evening.
The next day we started off at the Birthday boulders and Chris was able to experience Birthday Direct. He ended up very much enjoying the climb. I played around on the Loaf, preparing my tendons for the crimpy Freeze Short. We hit Freeze Short early, while it was well shaded. Chris made the first three-quarters of the climb look like a cruise, but he struggled with the scrunchier top-out. He injured his thumb in Moe’s while spotting me one afternoon, and it still hasn’t healed. Unfortunately, the thumb is crucial on this climb to press up to the next sloper over the lip. After three burns, Chris’ skin was trashed and his thumb was too sore to continue. I was nervous as all get out before getting on the line, but managed to calm myself enough to put the thing together. Whoo! It was a very proud send for me as it really worked my power weakness.
I spent the rest of the day playing around in the main area of the Buttermilks, and even sent Bachar Problem Left. Both Bachar problems (located side by side) climb a vertical face on some of the glassiest patina I’ve ever felt. I tried the right line a couple of times, but wasn’t getting anywhere. I stepped on the left line and something clicked. I found a couple of footholds with decent texture and put that sucker down. It contained some wild movement, but I’m afraid one of my fingers is very sore today because of the oddly shaped holds. Hhopefully a day or two off will set it right.
We didn’t sleep a wink last night due to another storm rolling in. I will not miss Bishop’s tempestuous winds. We packed everything up again this morning in a windstorm, and, as I was throwing the big pad in the trunk, the lid hit me smack dab on the forehead. Ouch. Oh, the glamorous life one leads on the road! With 50+mph winds predicted for tonight, not sure what we’re going to do. Looks like we won’t be able to climb for two days, at the very least. Fingers crossed!
What have we been up to for the last week, you ask. Sitting tight and becoming more anxious by the second. We had to take four consecutive rest days due to weather. One for snow. One for ice. Two for wind.
Day 4 was a very, very short day thanks to more blustery conditions. We barely had time to warm up, climbing a few lines on the Birthday Boulders and providing Chris with the Sheepherder experience. Sheepherder is a sand-bagged, high-ball V2 on which Chris punted at the top several times before saving his knees and moving on.
I was able to jump on the technical and DESPERATE Bard Route, while Chris quickly ticked Pope’s Roof. Felt good to climb again, let alone send something! Then the wind became heinous and our belongings went flying, so back to our shelter we walked.
Our first full day back of climbing started off chilly and breezy once again. We danced around and tried to warm up in vain, making for a slow morning. I decided to focus on training my weakness for the day and jumped on five routes with large, powerful moves requiring incredible body tension. My abs and legs are killing me today, but that’s ok. It’s the only way to improve! Chris made tremendous progress on both Junior’s Achievement and Sidewinder. I found a credit-card crimp on Devoted, reaching a new high-point. I thought the send was gonna go down before noticing a split tip thanks to that new crimp. Today is thus a forced rest day, but can’t wait to get back out tomorrow!
We’ve met up with a super nice Canadian couple with baby in tow. We run into them constantly at Starbucks, and it has been nice to have some people to converse with. They have rented an apartment for two months since keeping a baby in a tent would not be the safest idea. They’ve offered us showers and a place to sleep. I might have to take them up on the showering in exchange for beer.
Chris’ favorite V3 in the Buttermilks.
It has been a while since we’ve checked in. In all honesty, I’ve been very disappointed with my climbing performance and haven’t wanted to share how quickly I become pathetically discouraged. Here goes nothin’.
About ten days ago, Chris sent Acid Wash Right (V9). Coming off a rest day, we had both planned on devoting the entire day to the send. I felt very, very confident that Chris would put down the rig within his first three attempts. He wasn’t as secure in this belief, however, and was a trembling ball of nerves on the drive to the Happys (not due to the severe wash-boarding). He took his time and I just sat by, letting him completely focus on himself and get properly warmed up. It was a chilly day and the cave Acid Wash is located in was particularly cold. We threw the pads down, brushed the holds, I set up the camera, and Chris mentally prepared. His first go was excellent, although I wasn’t there to guide him to the ideal toe hooking spot. The toe hook consequently slipped out at the end and he fell. Chris asked me to leave the camera and be his eyes for the toe hook. He took a little break while another girl worked the problem. His next go was the send. I was far from surprised.
The rest of the day consisted of me hopping on a few moderate classics since I’m out of hard, inspirational lines in the Happys. I especially liked Ketron Classic and Sucker Punch. They’re both powerful lines with big moves on delicate feet. Just the kind of stuff I need to work on!
Chris was sensing his body needed a respite to repair, so I got the next several days to myself. I went out to the Sads and put Molly away. I made it abouuuut V7, hahaha. Must I express how bad I am at gigantic moves? For those of you who aren’t familiar with the problem, Molly climbs through a series of pockets, followed my a loooong reach to a sidepull, then a jump to a jug. I couldn’t figure out how to extend to the sidepull and kept settling on a tiny, sloping crimp underneath. I eventually went with it, high-stepping my elbow and crANking up to another sloping crimp, then grabbing the lip. I have a great chicken-wing picture to prove it!
Next up was Pow Pow, which went surprisingly well. I made it up to the last hard move. However… dun dun dun… similar to Last Dance, I’m battling with a grumpy heel hook that desires nothing more than to spit me off at the final second every time. I walked away empty handed, but resolved to return the next day and finish it up. Luck was not on my side, and I began to experience a very sharp pain in my left hand/forearm while working the problem. I was pooped and sore as all get out anyway. Maybe I’ll wrestle with it another time, maybe not. The short girl beta is… interesting. It requires incredible compression, tension, and fancy footwork. I was the sorest I have EVER been after messing around on this line. If it goes, I will consider it my hardest send to date. It’ll be a proud one!
We moved on to the Buttermilks, which was a rough transition. After my warm-up on the first day (all the climbs on the south side of the Sunshine boulder, including the high-ball Good Morning Sunshine, as well as Lululator, Milk the Milks, and Leary/Bard Arete), I was shot. Well, at least my fingertips were. I felt like I had just sliced ten hot chili peppers and had forgotten to wash my hands. The friction burn accompanied by the crystal bruises one experiences in the Buttermilks is like none other. So… rest day.
We’ve gotten in four more days at the Buttermilks in between rest days for our fingers and crappy weather. Chris has a slew of projects, including Sidewinder, Center Direct, and Soul Slinger before yesterday. He got within one move of the last jug throw, came down, and said he was done. He wasn’t enjoying the problem. So it goes, I suppose.
Chris has also been on my case about ‘free-soloing’. Not sure why, but I’ve been on a high-ball binge. After The Hunk, a three-star, 40ft tall problem, I came down and Chris said, “You know, I’d really rather you cut out the free-soloing.” Here’s to staying off the fatal-if-you-fall stuff.
I’ve been on the lookout for something, anything to draw me in. I did most of the lines that interested me the last time we were here. Lately, I’ve been wandering around with no ambition, attempting to climb lines that don’t suit me, that don’t inspire me, that I’m only trying because they’re there. Inevitably, I fail miserably and my confidence gets blown to smithereens. Yesterday I got on two V5s that involved reachy lock-off moves and I absolutely could not get my body to cooperate and perform the maneuver. I kept thinking, “What the hell is wrong with me? All of a sudden, I feel like I can’t do anything.” Chris flashed the problem, too. “What am I doing? I realize this move might be harder for me, but I know I’m capable of it.” The frustration grows, the skin thins, my muscles weaken, I continue to fight, then I give up. This has been happening at least four times per day. I know I need to be objective, reconcile with the fact that these are problems that don’t suit me, and think of them more as a means to train a certain movement skill. The biggest negative of staying in an area so long is, first you weed through problems and climb the ones you love, then you climb the ones you like, then there’s nothing left but the ones you hate.
Luckily, the weather is improving and we will be able to check out the outlying areas of the Buttermilks, areas that are a bit cooler due to the orientation of the slope they’re on or the higher elevation. We’re going to try to run out to the Checkerboard/Edge of Reason/etc area opposite the Buttermilks main area tomorrow. I am STOKED. I’m sure a change of scenery will get me back on track because, with new places, I put a ton less pressure on myself and instead focus on climbing anything that catches my eye. That’s just how I work. When I stop having fun, it’s time to move on. Didn’t I learn this already in Moe’s? There’s nothing like a reminder!
Well, we’ve been dodging storm after storm here in Bishop. We truly have no room to complain, given how mild this winter has been in comparison to years passed. The last two weeks or so have been a tad bit frustrating, nonetheless. This is the most inconsistent we’ve been thus far this year in terms of climbing days vs. rest days. Chris will go to bed psyched to put down his project the next morning only to wake up to 40mph winds and hail. Although some might brave these conditions, we’re meek and mild mid-western folk. We’re too fragile for 29 degree ‘sending temps’!
Chris, unfortunately, has been battling a shoulder injury flare-up. His original Acid Wash Right beta was causing his shoulder to pop out of the socket on the opening move, leaving it incredibly sore for days after. He has been kinda sorta taking it easy except for when he gets inspired by a line. He also strained his groin on the heel hook of Last Dance, and has thus eliminated that problem from his list of projects. Poor dude!
As mentioned in my previous post, Chris and I have been attempting to round out our time in the Tablelands by scampering up some two and three star moderates. So far, we’ve ticked off Mr. Witty (V6), Erotic Terrorist (V6), Shizaam (V5), Fueled by Hate (V5), and Whiskey, Beer, and Splif (V4). Chris is under the impression that his footwork could use a tune-up, so we’ve also been focusing on vertical and slab lines. There are some GREAT ones over in the Clapper area, as well as two phenomenal problems in the Sads called The Groove and The Arete. Seriously, two of the best lines I’ve ever been on. The Arete ascends an arete (duh) shaped in an arch like a quarter of a circle. There are two ways to do it: left of the arete and right of the arete. On the left, you just slap up the arete, pressing your feet against the wall and hoping they stick as there are no distinct foot holds. The right side is more of a slab problem, using the arete for balance. The feet are a bit better, but still tenuous. Chris was really nervous about this problem at first due to a large block being located at its base and the nature of the feet (slick and not inspiring confidence). He was losing patience with himself and becoming disheartened when I encouraged him to try the right variation first. He did and had a lot of fun on it, plus it gave him the confidence boost he needed to undertake the left variation. Easy peasy lemon squeezy!
The Groove was a stemming problem in a very wide dihedral, once again on smooth stone. Both of these problems were optimal for exercising trust in our feet. Even V0 can teach you a lot! I actually ran laps on both lines, relishing the unique movement and the gorgeous setting.
I also did a 25ft finger crack for fun. It was perfect fingers for me, but very tight for Chris. It was beautiful, with pods and locks all over the place. Made me want to get back to traditional climbing! I’ve climbed maybe ten to fifteen traditional pitches, all in the Red River Gorge. Chris finally got around to teaching me just last spring. I fell in love. I’m not at all a competent jammer, but I’m dying to learn the skill. Can’t wait until I’m comfortably leading 5.10 trad. That will feel like such a tremendous accomplishment for me. My goal is to be able to climb 5.10 traditionally protected multi-pitch routes. I’m hoping next year to put more trad mileage under my belt and learn the ropes of setting up anchors, jamming, etc.
A far as projects go, Chris is enthusiastically working Beefcake (V10). The last time he was on it, however, a grain of sand embedded itself in his eyeball and Chris subsequently wrestled with it for the next two hours. We flushed his eye with water a half dozen times, I looked and looked and looked and could find nothing. The boy was MISERABLE. I eventually got him out of the ice caves and into the sun where he could at least sit in comfort while his eye worked laboriously to remove the dreaded piece of sand. Exasperated, Chris shooed me away. I didn’t want to go far, so I joined some new friends in the outer ice caves area and repeated Shizaam, Fueled by Hate, and Erotic Terrorist. As I was just beginning another problem, Chris skipped into the caves and shouted, “I got it, I got it!” One of the guys asked, “What did you send, man?” I laughed and explained how Chris had been prying a grain of sand out of his eyeball for a full two hours. Now in a better frame of mind, Chris grabbed his shoes and began circuiting problems with me while offering some coaching advice to the other two guys. They seemed to really, really appreciate it.
Next, Chris dragged the pad back to the true ice caves area where Beefcake hid itself away. We found another couple also working a line. They were exceptionally kind, allowing Chris to barge in and give Beefcake a few burns. They even threw down their pads to help me out. After a few failed efforts, Chris asked the couple whether they had ever done Beefcake and whether they used similar beta. The young woman politely asked if Chris wanted to hear what she did, and Chris eagerly accepted any suggestions. She was exceedingly strong, but one of the kindest and humblest boulderers I have ever come across. Her partner was a riot, describing the line they were working on and telling us all kinds of hilarious stories. Chris gleaned some new insight from the woman, and made further progress on Beefcake. The couple was very encouraging and supportive. We were thankful to have them there!
The day ended leaps and bounds better than it began, and I walked away with a huge grin on my bronzed face. It felt wonderful to be around such a courteous and convivial group of climbers. No one rushed anyone else, no one sprayed beta without hesitation. Sadly, these days are so few and far between. Just yesterday, while Chris was mid-burn on Acid Wash, another group of climbers rolled up and asked if they could hop on. The canyon was deserted. Maybe it’s because I initially began sport climbing, but I cannot comprehend why people insist on intruding on your session when there are HUNDREDS of other climbs around, unoccupied.
Chris began by explaining that he was nearly finished with the problem and would appreciate a few more minutes of solitude. The posse (six of them) appeared miffed, but gave us two minutes of peace. Another guy approached Chris just as Chris was pulling on for the first move and asked if he could put his pad down because he ‘couldn’t reach the footholds without it’. A) Why ask for permission if you’re gonna do it anyway, and B) Would you walk up to somebody while they were mid-sport climb and tell them you were getting on, so they had better ditch? I don’t understand this concept in bouldering. Usually, if it’s just one or two people wanting to share a line, we’re cool with it. When you roll up with your six other friends, rudely hee and haw, and take over, I become mildly annoyed. I am the type of person to give others space when I see them working on a problem. I don’t like to climb in front of people anyway, so I’m all too happy to move on. When it is SUPER crowded, I get that sharing is inevitable. Can we not at least be considerate of one another? When you roll up with six people while one person is projecting a climb, do you really expect them to be pleased when they can only get in one burn per hour while the rest of you dick around? Consider perhaps splitting up into smaller groups, changing plans to jump on another line while someone is working ‘yours’, taking turns instead of taking over, politely shutting your mouth instead of spraying beta, taking your pot and cigarette smoke where I won’t have to wheeze through it while climbing, hanging on to your dog so the spotter can focus on the CLIMBER, not pissing three feet away from the problem I’m on. Sorry to rant, but these are real issues that we encounter daily, no joke. I begin to believe that I simply dislike climbing with others until I run into folks like the ones at the ice caves. Then I realize how much I miss working with people!
In the end, the larger group won on Acid Wash and chased Chris away. We left them be for a couple of hours, then returned once it was quiet. Unfortunately, Chris was out of gas. He got so, so, so close to sending that rig. We will certainly be back, and it WILL go down.
In other news, I succeeded at sending my rig yesterday. Chris put together a little video of it, too. Don’t laugh. Actually, go ahead. My flailing is hilarious, even to myself.
We had experienced bad weather again on Monday, followed by an ugly morning. We sought out warmth at Starbucks, hoping and praying we would get some climbing in before the next storm rolled in on Wednesday. We lucked out. By 11AM, the sun was shining and there was a light breeze. We ran out to the Happys, warmed up, and got on our projects. Mine went down fast, even though I was convinced I would never stick the last move thanks to my heel violently cutting when going for the sloping rail. I shocked myself when I finally latched it, letting go with the left hand as my feet were swirling in order to hold on with as deathly a grip as I could muster. The top scared the pants off me, as it was thinner than anticipated and I re-he-heally didn’t want to blow it. You basically mantle on the sloping rail onto a slab top-out. Thank goodness I didn’t botch it.
Another hideous day in Bishop has us inside. We’re hoping to move on to the Buttermilks for our last couple of weeks. I think Chris wants another couple of days in the Tablelands to finish up Acid Wash Right and Beefcake. Fingers crossed for clear weather!
So, since I’m running out of room to post pictures on the blog, I decided to begin throwing them up on Picasa. Now I’ll be able to post all of our pictures for your enjoyment! Just below you’ll also find a short clip of Chris and me on some ‘nothing-but-fun’ problems. The first is a slab where you’re only allowed to use your toes. No hands, knees, elbows, shins, bellies, etc. permitted! Chris touched the rock with his knee first go, botching the flash. 😉 The next problem was one I saw out of the corner of my eye. It was too unique of a feature to pass up climbing! I wish it had been a lot longer and a few notches harder, but it was entertaining nonetheless.
I’ve been attempting to ‘get back to my roots’ and climb anything that catches my attention. My inspiration tends to lie in unique features, such as big scoops and vertical cracks. I’ve also been on a technical face climbing binge, seeking out every vertical and slab climb I can. I miss them here in the Tablelands! It’s a necessary change of pace, and excellent training for footwork and flexibility dependent climbs. It’s altogether too easy to become caught up in the numbers game, especially when you realize you’re 3/4 of the way through your trip and develop a sense of urgency to bring it home.
For as long as we’ve been climbing together (approximately two years), I have been the one carrying the energy and creating the tone for the day. I’m a passionate, vivacious individual (at times to a fault) and am accustomed to leadership roles. Although Chris is a strong leader himself, he has thus far tended to follow me. I believe this has a lot to do with his history as a climber.
Chris began climbing in his teenage years and rapidly progressed through the grades. Before college, Chris was climbing 5.13 in both sport and trad. The boy was a beast of a trad climber, favoring painful, thin finger cracks that few others could stomach. He also maintained a successful swimming career in high school. Both of these activities placed extensive stress on his shoulders, and he subsequently injured one and the other in short succession. These injuries instilled an immutable timidity in Chris when it came to climbing. He struggled to push outside of his comfort zone, no longer trusting in the strength and integrity of his shoulders.
Another incident which prevented Chris from renewing confidence in climbing occurred during one of our initial trips to the Red River Gorge. Chris and I were out climbing one beautiful morning when another climber came running up the trail. Barely able to recover his breath, he wheezed, “There has been an accident over at the Dark Side. We need help.” Several people at the cliff, including Chris and I, threw on their shoes and went sprinting down the trail. Chris turned around to me and protectively demanded that I stay put. To this day I wish I had ignored him, but in that moment I thought it best to do as I was told. There wasn’t any time for questions. I sat with our things at the crag, trembling with fear and tears gliding down my cheeks. It felt like ages before Chris returned, looking haggard and covered in blood. I frantically ran up, grabbed him, and began sobbing. He mentioned a word or two about the accident and the rescue, we packed up our things, and hiked bad to the car, despondent.
By the time we were in the car, I was convinced I would never climb again. Chris and I talked lots for several weeks thereafter. Tragically, the climber involved in the accident suffered fatal injuries. As it turned out, he was instructing a newby on how to climb and belay outside. The newer climber’s belay was faulty, and he defeated the mechanism of his automatic belay device just as his climber was falling, resulting in a ground fall. It was a horrific accident that took Chris and I months to recover from. We concluded that risks are involved in no matter what we do, and we were not willing to give up climbing due to the inherent risks. We resolved to become as best we could at assessing the risks associated with every climb, and do all we could to control for such risks.
The accident happened in the spring of 2010, and Chris left for work at a camp down in Bloomington soon after. I picked up a wonderful partner over the summer, a young, talented, easy-go-lucky guy that was just what the doctor ordered. He pushed me hard, and I was simply bullied into overcoming my fears. Bullied may be too harsh… more like aggressively coerced! We climbed well together, and I quickly got my head screwed on straight and broke into the 5.12 grade range.
Once Chris was done with camp and I had graduated from graduate school, we left on our first extended road trip. There were many, many bumps along the road as we both had gobs to learn about ourselves, each other, climbing, and how to make our partnership and our relationship meld. The first part of the trip did not go well. Chris’ head was a mess, and I was frustrated with dragging him around when he clearly did not want to be there. We were forced back home due to weather, and worked in the gym December through March. In March, we took my first bouldering trip outside to Rocktown. My weaknesses showed like sore thumbs, and I flailed all over the place. Something must have clicked, however, because once we got to the Red in April I was onsighting and redpointing three letter grades above what I had done previously.
Chris was continuing to wrestle with his head games, though. By the end of April, before heading home to our jobs, I had a heart-to-heart with him about his attitude and his outlook. It hit him hard, but in a positive manner. He was appreciative of my honesty and admitted that he was desperate for such a wake-up call. Before departing on our second road trip the following fall, several prerequisite changes were in order for both of us. I wanted us to be on the same page this time around.
All in all, we have significantly grown in our partnership and things have gone much more smoothly the last three months. During the first month, I noticed a peppier Christopher, although I still sensed he was following my footprints as opposed to striking his own path. Chris’ habits were drastically altered after Christmas break, however. I honestly couldn’t say whether it was because I was sidelined, because he was more inspired in Moe’s, because Moe’s was more in his style, or what the cause was. All of a sudden, Chris woke up in the morning and had a plan, and I was the one following. Frankly, I felt estranged from this new husband of mine. He was so focused on his new projects, invigorated by his sends, and proud. I was proud of him too. I had never witnessed him tackling problems of that difficulty and leaving himself so vulnerable to disappointment. My only regret was that I couldn’t share the enthusiasm and the high with him.
Chris did great things in Moe’s and was able to restore much of the confidence he lost over the years plagued with injuries, negativity, and traumatic experiences. We drove to Bishop, and his self-motivation continued. I was sidelined for a couple more weeks, as once the pain in my forearm subsided I noticed pain in my palm and fingers. Pockets gave me fits, as did any three-finger holds. I have just begun to pick up the pace, and it feels GLORIOUS! I am finally able to be audacious and play hard again. I was annoyed with being left behind, and left behind is indeed how I felt. I missed engaging in a bit of healthy competition with my partner, enabling me to try lines I might have never gotten on. I understand many people look down on a competitive attitude. However, I’ve been a competitive athlete my entire life, and competition with myself and with others drives me.
Luckily, Chris handles my competitive nature well and is not offended when we work together on problems. I love the fire kindled inside me when we’re both fighting for the send on a line! We both work hard to be very positive and encouraging towards one another. We are obviously built very differently, and have varying strengths and weaknesses. We attack problems in our own way and can both recognize when a particular move is easier for one of us. Then, it’s just a matter of how we, personally, with this body, are going to surmount the obstacle. Just the other day, I got on a V3 that Chris had onsighted during his warm-up, but I was beating my head against the wall to gather my beta for the send.
The damn thing wound up feeling about V6 for me after my beta refinement, but I was bound and determined to solve the puzzle my way. I was frustrated during the process, sure! Why is that so negative? Why is it so negative to be passionate? I watch videos of Ondra throwing fits and being castigated for it. I seem to be one of few who completely understand the necessity of these passionate outbursts. We invest so much time, energy, emotion, and love into these immutable rocks, thrashing mind and body to climb their faces in the most asinine, complex way possible. Is this sport not all about passion and creativity, problem solving and tenacity? Oh, it is! Then bring on the frustration and the drive it creates to succeed. I typically tone it down when others are around, but my passion is part of who I am. I am fortunate to have a hubby who understands and respects that.
Thank you to the pros, like Dave Graham, who tell it like it is, show it the way they feel it, and aren’t afraid of their personality. I wish every blog post could be written in such a way as to facilitate the reader’s journey through the writer’s innermost thoughts. I endeavor to break away from the ‘we went here and climbed this’ drab, unoriginal posts. I’d like to put forth more sincere cogitations and engage our followers.
So, we completed our goal. We climbed 26 problems in a day for Chris’ 26th birthday. Not sure whether we will ever celebrate in this manner again, but it’s done!
I woke up early, early (5am), but forced myself to stay in my warm sleeping bag till 7:15am, reading to pass the time. Chris and I are on a Charles Dickens kick. I finally rose and braved the cold to brew some coffee, while Chris began to stir shortly after. We started off the morning with coffee, bread/bagels, and off-brand oreos dipped in our coffee. This is the usual regime. We headed out to the Happys around 7:45am.
Our plan was to climb 26 problems located at the far end of the canyon, where there is seldom traffic (it was Saturday, after all). Things started off poorly as we immediately noticed that the stone quality was abysmal. Determined to persevere, we ignored our guts and scampered up the first two lines. Unsure of the direction the third line went, Chris bombed off three times in a row as he groped the dirty rock for something to latch on to where nothing existed. Each time he’d come down scowling, vehemently motioning tearing his navy North Face hat from his head and launching it into the ground as if to form a crater. He resembled a baseball pitcher, only empty handed as he failed to remove the hat from his melon. He eventually collapsed onto the pad like a sullen rag-doll, and I kneeled down and timidly rubbed his shoulder in an attempt to mollify him. I suggested we switch up the plans and move on to more traveled, better quality stone. He appeared pleased with the idea, so we packed up and resumed our objective at The Slight Inducement Boulder.
Slight Inducement housed five lines, two of which we had climbed before. Chris desired to avoid lines he had already done, so we ticked off the three on the west face. Next, we jogged to the Soweto boulder and quickly dispatched the two easiest problems. We struggled on the sustained V4, wishing for skin and power that we could not create. The blobby stone feasted on our thin, delicate skin. We glowered at the monster’s jaws, terrified of moving with gumption toward those sharp, merciless teeth. Chris felt rushed and desperate and his attitude began to show it. After two hopeless burns on the V4, he skipped it to try the V3. The V3 was on suspect rock over a terrible landing and Chris found himself unable to commit to the big throw off the deck. For a second time, I made an effort to quell his anger by expressing concern about the rock quality and the sketchy landing. He retorted, “So, I’m just going to keep skipping problems?” I admit that we made a poor choice by knocking ourselves out the day before, figuring the next day would be a ‘cruise’. Chris, staring at his ruddy tips and disappointed with his somnolent muscles, was losing patience and was unsure whether he wanted to continue. I advised we seek out more skin-friendly rock, and, thankfully, he complied.
He followed me around to the west side of the Serengeti boulder, where six stunning high-ball moderates basked in the sun. Chris’ face brightened with each line, and he enjoyed the mental head-game involved with the tall top-outs. He recovered his flow, and the large plate features of the boulder enabled him to focus solely on the movement and gave his tips much needed respite. By the time we completed all six problems, we were at a total of 10 climbs for the day.
We continued to head down canyon, bagging a line at the Savannah boulder on a pretty brown face before stopping for three more problems at Girlfriend rock. One was a simple climb on the east face which was short and dark-brown (like me!). It was interlaced with highly textured dishes and sloping crimps. We scampered up another problem with large pockets and a slanting rail, as well as a quirky, beta-intensive V3.
So far he had been lucky, successfully avoiding the weekend crowd. As we approached the backside of the Happy boulder, we could hear excessive chanting and chattering related to people working The Hulk and Solarium. This is to be expected, as these two climbs are constantly gang-banged. We hiked the three easiest problems on the Happy boulder hassle-free, minus soiling our pants on the middle high-ball. The crux came at the top with slick stone and indistinct feet. Chris was shakin’ like a leaf! We were up to 20 problems total.
To round out the day, we climbed the Window boulder which has a large natural arch. Chris flashed it, but my more stylish method required multiple burns. We jumped over and repeated Safesurfer, a stellar V3 on great rock with fun moves. It was worth the repeat. The final three problems we climbed were on the More Water, Less Power boulder. Chris’ favorite was the last, a pocket climb on bullet rock. Whoo hoo!
As a pre-birthday treat, we nabbed an ice cream with one scoop of peanut butter cup and one scoop of rocky road in a waffle cone to boot. Delish and well deserved! This morning, on Chris’ real birthday, we drove to Denny’s and each ordered the Grand Slam breakfast. We really, really, really like breakfast. We’re going to try to watch the Superbowl later today, but we’ll have to ask around first to figure out where. GO GIANTS!
Problems listed in order climbed
1. Aaarhhhhh V0-
2. Nagasaki Badger V0-
3. Future Planet of Style V0-
4. Don’t Box Me In V1
5. Amphibian/Junkyard V0+
6. Ghetto Justice V0+
7. Soweto V0+
8. Aerial Surveillance V0-
9. Incoming V0
10. Crash Dive V0-
11. Durban Poison V0-
12. I Killed A Man V1
13. Weasel Robbers V1
14. Duck Soup V0-
15. Mmm… Nice V0-
16. Giant V0
17. Unnamed V3
18. Indecision V0+
19. Jugs of Life V1
20. X-Static V0-
21. Hole in My Heart V1
22. Safesurfer V3
23. Grant’s Christmas Present V1
24. Swing Your Partner V1
25. Vision Arete V1
26. Any Which Way V0+
I. Am. Wrecked. To top it off, Chris and I are going to attempt to complete 26 problems ranging from V0 – V6 tomorrow for his 26th birthday. His birthday actually falls on SuperBowl Sunday, but we plan on sitting around and watching the game instead of climbing. GO GIANTS!
Check in soon for an update. I can’t wait to see how badly I whimper and cry. I plan on taking video every five problems or so to demonstrate our progressive wreckage.
That is all, folks.