Tuesday, November 16, 2010

2nd #jtreetweetup

Well, the 2nd #jtreetweetup is behind us, and I'm struggling once more to put the experience into words... Yet, this year the aftertaste is distinctly different, for me.

Last year's tweetup was the first. It had been such a special experience that for me it felt fragile. I put it in a snow globe and refused to analyze it or write about it for fear of marring it. Every once in a while I was allowed to turn over the globe and make moon eyes at it.

This year's tweetup was similar yet different. The feeling of community was just as strong. It was just as amazing to meet or meet again the people in whose lives I'm a spectator and occasional participant. It was all really special in all the same huge, really amazing and important ways. The bittersweetness of departure last year was replaced with the bittersweetness of missing some of the people who had been there the year before (or indeed, people who'd gone to the Red Rocks or other climbing tweetups that I only know from twitter), but knowing they're OK. But topping it all off, for me at least, was an undercurrent of optimism that I hadn't detected last year.

Last year had been about "wow! what just happened?! that was so special! I wonder if anything this special can ever happen again". This year was more "wow! this is awesome! It happened again! Can we keep doing this?!" Do you see what I mean? It's like the difference between falling in love for the first time vs realizing that being in love is, ideally, a human condition, and you're a creature made to participate in that with an open heart again and again.

And before readers start wondering what I did to the real Teri, I'll take my bow. It was a privilege to meet and meet again with everyone. Be safe! Auf wiedersehen!

Our ticklist: Dappled Mare (led 2nd pitch). Dinky Doinks, Granny Goose, M&Ms Plain (followed).

Monday, November 8, 2010

Post-facelift New Jack

This weekend there was a lovely meetup at New Jack City. I'd heard that the BLM was planning "improvements", but I didn't know what, if anything, had happened. As it turned out what development has been so far done is quite unobtrusive, and some of it is downright useful. The road has been graded a little better, and covered in gravel, which reduced the amount of dust generated by passing cars. Some concrete pads with permanent roofs were put in place, presumably to concentrate camping around them, and to provide some permanent shade. Finally, two more vault toilets were installed -- a very welcome addition, which will be even better once it's properly stocked with t.p.

We climbed on Raven on Saturday, and I dispatched a couple 10a's and a 10b. On Sunday we climbed on Boyscout wall, where I led a 7 and toproped 3 10a/b's, and then Francis led and I followed the route to the right of Espresso, again a 10a. I considered getting on Espresso (10c) on Saturday, but backed off, as I was intimidated by its crimpiness. The shoulder's doing pretty well, but I'm concerned about my shoulders starting to pull forward as I regain strength in my arm muscles. I'll see what I can do about getting some more p.t. authorized.

Monday, October 18, 2010

First time at Holcomb Pinnacles

This weekend Dan and I joined Rebecca and Francis at the Holcomb Pinnacles. Great food and a blast was had by all. We did a bunch of 7s, a 6 and an 8, two 10a's and a 10b. Shoulder felt good!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

White Punks on Dope

As the dear reader may recall, one of the objectives of Dima's and my last trip to the Needles had been to climb White Punks on Dope. But we had failed, since the approach took too long, and it was far too hot a day to be starting up a serious climb with as little water as we had. So we had backed off, but turned on GPS tracking on the way down, so we could do the approach with less hassle in the future. 

Well, on Friday we returned to Voodoo Dome, to give WPoD one more try. We began our trip with the customary stop at the brewery in Kernville, then proceeded up to the road-side bivy on Needlerock Creek, only to find four cars parked there! We ended up crashing at the turnout just before the creek, so that we could still walk to the trailhead, instead of the campground, from where we would have to drive.

We woke up around 6:30am Saturday to an absolutely perfect day. We took our time puttering about for breakfast and racking up, then started up the trail. We didn't turn on the GPS from the start. This time we knew not to miss the left turn that takes you to the climbs -- if you go straight you're now on the descent path, but going up. Nevertheless, at some point, despite all our efforts, we ran out of cairns to follow. That's exactly why we had the GPS track with us, and it was time to use it. As fate would have it, however, my phone with which I had fiddled extensively to ensure that I had the right apps and everything would work, could not acquire a GPS signal in the woods. We moved a little approximately in the right direction, and at every clearing I would give my phone a chance to acquire a signal, and every time it would NOT. T-mobile had pushed a GPS firmware update the night before, and I was convinced -- and furious! -- that it had simply broken my GPS, which I had gone to such pains to prep. Eventually we found ourselves in a rocky gully with cairns, but it was clear that it was headed for the notch between Voodoo Dome and the Dome to the west. From there we could see that we had to bushwhack N-NE to find the base of our climb, and so we did. Eventually we intersected the rocky gully that does lead to the base of WPoD, and scrambled up to the base. It was 10:10am, and by 10:30am we were on the rock. 

Dima led all the pitches in this climb. The first pitch was a cool, rope-stretching crack in the middle of a face framed by dihedrals. We had shade for half of it, and it ended in an alcove below and between big broken sections. It was a gorgeous climb, and the belay was in a really cool spot. At the end of the first pitch we had a yelled conversation with a party of, I think, 3 who were planning to start up the climb behind us. 

The second pitch has a vere bouldery start. Dima placed a cam and a nut above the anchor before testing the move and falling on the nut. On the next try he pulled the move just fine. When it came time for me to follow, I was dismayed to find that the nut he'd fallen on was pretty jammed, so I had to spend a whole bunch of time extracting it. The next belay was also in an alcove beneath a big chimney. There was a weird constriction in the rock that was going to make the next pitch really tricky, so we broke up the easy terrain into several "pitches" with hip belays. The top of the chimney was very very cool, and that soon brought us to the base of the fingers dihedral that is the hardest rated pitch (at 5.9) of the climb. 

Chimney pitch - WPoD

Dima led up the dihedral, huffing and puffing, protected the exit into an offwidth lieback with the #4 camalot, as planned, and started belaying me up. I pretty much hated life in that dihedral. My Achilles tendons were killing me, and the sides of the dihedral were in an acute angle, meaning I couldn't get much rest. It was slick and messy. The fingers crack, at least, was good. By the time I got to the #4 I was so ready for offwidth! I underclung the thing and made it out. This was a legitimately hard pitch, but far too long and awkward for me to pretend I enjoyed it.

The next pitch was the most fun for both of us, I think. It's a slab pitch, with one placement to protect right above the anchor, then 4 bolts in 165 feet of climbing. It's rated, I think correctly, at 5.8. Dima grumbled and climbed, and then I followed. The crux, I think, comes right after the first bolt. There is a completely improbable traversing move necessary, and both Dima and I thought it was the hardest. But it was so fun! 

Slab pitch on White Punks on Dope

The slab pitch ends at a big ledge, from which we chose to head to the summit via a 5.9+ finger crack. It was a very nice climb, but Dima kept me on a lot of tension, so I wouldn't deck if I fell at the start, and I felt like I was essentially pulled up the climb. It was 5pm when we got to the top, so we didn't waste any time finding our way off the formation. We rapped down the North side, from the slings at the very top, and then tried to find a trail off. This time I knew we'd have to lose a lot of elevation to clear the buttresses ringing the rock, so we didn't hesitate to head down. Eventually, and almost magically, we dropped down the notch between Voodoo and Gremlin. From there we could see the road, and we had a general idea of what we were looking for. We were back at the car by 7pm, before headlamps were even necessary, and we really felt like we'd gotten away with something!

The GPS, by the way, finally got enough satellite signal at the ledge below the summit. And the climbers we heard start behind us... we never heard from them again. They must have bailed. And we never did find out what all those cars were doing at Needlerock creek...

Dima's gallery

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Sorting out my gear

I've made a lot of gear purchases this summer, and yesterday I took the time to return and replace some. Here's the rationale, and review-like observations:

Swapping the Patagonia NanoPuff pullover for TNF Zephyrus

I got a Patagonia NanoPuff pullover, whose purpose was to be the jacket at the bottom of my multi-pitch pack that gets called on if things get colder than at the start of the approach. It's extremely light and packable and perfect for the purpose. I ended up returning it and replacing it with a North Face Zephyrus pullover, which cost $30 less, best case. They both use the same Polartec One insulation, the former at 60 grams and the latter at 40. The former has the insulation, which is originally in sheets, sewed into it in a criss-cross pattern, whereas the latter has no such baffles. But the North Face one has what seems a tougher nylon shell, and tearing that is my primary concern.

Swapping the Patagonia R1 pullover for the Velocity powerstretch zip

I got a Patagonia R1 pullover primarily for racing. The rationale was that, while my wool-based technical gear is awesome, it's not the safest option for sailing. This is because wool retains more water when soaked than fleece. This means you both expend more energy warming that water until it evaporates, and you weigh more, which is a consideration if you go overboard. So I thought I'd try R1. I liked it a lot, except that the collar was too wide and drafty, and that was a no-no. I eventually took a bunch of friends' blog recommendations and went with the Velocity zip, again by Patagonia, which is much much stretchier.

Moving from the REI Acme to the Patagonia Alpine Guide pants

I love guide pants -- the soft-shell, stretchy, water-resistant pants that a million companies now make. Until now I've been well-served by my REI Acme pants, which are fabulous except for the fact that the Schoeller waterproofing on them has completely failed. After doing plenty of research and agonizing over this, I've decided to give the Patagonia Alpine Guide pants a try. I'm excited about the fit, and the glowing recommendations regarding the waterproofing.

Hint: how to patch a down jacket like a pro

And finally, a hint. When campfire embers made a couple small holes in my favorite Isis down jacket, I did what most climbers do: I patched it with climbing tape. Then I tried ductape and that was just as ugly, and once the edges started peeling, just as annoyingly sticky. Then it occurred to me that spinnaker repair tape is almost the same denier nylon fabric as the shell I was trying to patch. Et voila!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Captain Kirk at the Needles

Before leaving on my previous climbing trip to Tuolumne I emailed Dima, the guy who originally taught me how to climb cracks two years ago, for beta for that trip. He mentioned his school year was about to start for earnest but that he barely had time for one more trip, and we concocted a plan to head to the Needles for two or three days. Dima flew into LA and we were going to meet in Kernville on Sunday afternoon. As it turned out, not one but two rental cars crapped out on him, so he was running a couple hours late when I arrived at Kernville and parked my butt at the Kern River Brewing Co. I was wearing my new Supercrack t-shirt, and a couple of folks at the brewery had apparently just been talking about the Supercrack, so we struck up a very pleasant conversation. Between reading my book, catching up on beta and drinking, time flew and Dima arrived. We had dinner and took off for the high campground, where we had a quick ceremonial libation and crashed asleep.

The next morning found us not too hurried. While I had only climbed on Voodoo Dome, Dima had been to the top of the Needles before and gotten hopelessly lost trying to find Magic Dragon. So he had decided that we should start by trying to climb Igor Unchained, the shortest, but also hardest of our objectives, since he expected we'd spend part of the day lost. As it turned out, we didn't get lost at all. We hiked in to the base of the tower, then took the trail that traverses the North side of the Needles, then dropped down the notch between the Witch and the Sorcerer, and BLAM! Igor on the left! Atlantis on the right! Figurative climber hard on!

Igor Unchained looks as beautiful and intimidating from the bottom as it does in pictures, but steeper. The backstory is short and sweet: in spring 2009 I was looking at Needles pictures on Mountain Project when I noticed Igor. He took my breath away. I wanted to climb him. So I made a date with my then partner to go to Igor in May 2010 and lead all three pitches of him. In November I was stronger than ever, and it all seemed like it might work out. But then Ben and I stopped climbing together, and in February, and then again in March I tore my rotator cuff and labrum. So my plans to climb Igor, or to climb anything, really, were put off for months. Fast forward to Monday: Dima is rearing to go, and I am at the base, having promised to follow him up anything he cares to lead (and thinking, based on prior experience, that that was a safe bet). I am shaking in my boots in the presence of Igor. What on earth is 5.9"+"? I've researched this climb extensively and I know that people say the "+" is for sustained. To me that means strenuous, and I'm out of shape. We're at high altitude and it's supposed to be hot and I haven't climbed with Dima in two years and I'm thinking, I better not break down and cry, or worse, pee myself now...

Dima racks up and off we go! The first pitch is a left-facing dihedral that requires the leader to make the same move over and over. Dima luckily has doubles, even some triples, in the right sizes, so he slowly-slowly makes it almost all the way up the pitch. Instead of belaying in an alcove, he is forced, through lack of appropriate gear, to build a hanging belay a little lower. I start following and I'm learning quickly. Lesson #1: Dima actually believes he might fall, because he's setting the nuts *really* well. Every time I have to remove a nut I lose skin off one, sometimes two, knuckles. Lesson #2: what is happy hands for Dima is a little wide for me. I'm sometimes on the verge of slipping out of the places where he's placed a #2 C4. I'm camming my wrists in that shallow crack in new and painful ways. About two thirds up that interminable dihedral I have to hang. I call a take and try to catch my breath, massage some blood back into my right hand, recover the use of my left Achilles tendon. Then it's back at it, and I arrive, panting like a dog, at one of the most uncomfortable belays in memory.

The next pitch goes even slower for the leader. There is a bizzarre tiny roof with a wide crack to get over, then some more wide stuff, then a fingers dihedral. Dima overcomes them all methodically, though I can't see him from my vantage point for the second half. In the meantime I'm devising increasingly more acrobatic ways to hang in my harness. I finally start up. It turns out that the beta for me to get over the little roof with the wide crack is completely different from Dima's. Where he could jam his thigh, I can fit my whole hip. I come up with a way to do it that seems like a child's solution to a boulder problem. It involves a heel-toe-hook, the bastard lovechild of a heel-hook and heel-toe jam. By then Dima is insistently providing "belay assistance", though I haven't asked for it, so the whole exercise is a little ridiculous. I get to the dihedral and I finally relax. Fingers dihedral, I know how to do this. Turns out that was the part that had sketched out Dima. Go figure. We're on a ledge now, and there's a place to sit in the shade. It's practically palatial!

Dima agonizes a little about how to rack up for the third pitch, but the printed beta is pretty clear, fingers and hands, so off he goes. I'm belaying him seemingly forever. He runs out of rope and I yell up at him, but I can't hear his response. I don't take him off belay until I can tell he has me on. I break down the anchor and off I go. This is the pitch that had me nearly peeing myself at the base. It's completely vertical. I'm climbing and it's really strenuous, but really really good. After I seem to have climbed a pitch's worth, I start thinking, this may be the best pitch I've ever climbed. But then it keeps going. Another of what seems like half a pitch later, I'm starting to bargain in my head: if you end now, I'll still call you the best pitch I've ever climbed, but if not... It's vertical, so I can't see over the top, and I don't know how much further. I'm having to stop and de-pump my hands every chance I get, which is not often enough. Man! What is this?! I slip and I catch myself. Damned if I'm taking a fall now! Finally, the angle eases off and I pant to Dima. Holy shit! We are both mumbling in ecstasy, telling each other about our mental process, him leading, me following that pitch. We agree that it may be the best pitch we've done. And it's *exactly* 60 meters long.

The view from the top of the Witch, whom we've now earned the right to call the Bitch, is spectacular. We spent a lot of time up there taking pictures and enjoying the breeze. We rapped down and started on the trail back, and somewhere about a quarter of the way back to camp my internal battery ran out of juice. I had to scramble and hike back extremely ... very slowly. But we made it, of course. We headed out to Ponderosa for beers & burgers, but found it had just closed. We drove down to Needlepoint Creek, our bivy on the low road, since the plan for the next day was to do White Punks on Dope, which is on Voodoo Dome. On the way we saw two beautiful brown bears. Over dinner we looked up at the Needles in moonlight.

The next morning we got up at 6, and probably left around 7. We coudn't find the trail, eventually made it to the base of Voodoo, and then followed the base around to White Punks. The heat and bushwhacking misery of this could not be overstated. We got there at 10am, and the sun was already beginning to bake the world. We were destroyed from the approach, and decided we no longer had enough water or time to do the climb and get back with the desired margin of safety. We turned on Dima's GPS tracking and followed the cairns downhill, making a track to the base of the climb on the way -- a little community service, if you will, and a pre-requisite for a future successful attempt.

View White punks on dope approach trail in a larger map

With Dima gone to points North to climb, and the camera with the photos of our trip still with him, I returned home. I've slept at home for two nights since the trip, and I have never slept so soundly in my life. I did not know such depths of exhaustion could be plumbed.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

First time in Tuolumne

Much as I hate it, I think this trip report is going to disappoint everyone who has been looking forward to it. We didn't get as much climbing done as I'd hoped, we didn't get to climb Cathedral Peak, as we'd planned, and logistics was a nightmare because of how crowded the park was. We had fun nevertheless, but I was barely sore when we got back.

Night #1:
Michelle and I left for Tuolumne on Thursday evening at 6pm. We'd made it to Hilltop hot spring, south of Mammoth, by 1am. There was only one a small truck parked there, with a dude sleeping in the back, so we were clear to go for a dip and crash. I proceeded to navigate left and up the hill instead of right and down, and we'd given up on finding the hot spring when we returned to the parking lot and the dude kindly pointed us in the right direction. Poor guy, I bet he was tossing and turning for hours after we woke him up. Sorry, dude! We found the spring, took a dip and admired the Milky Way and then crashed hard hidden in the lee of the car -- a dubious move, as camping is not allowed there, and if we got caught it would make it worse for everyone coming after us. It was a freezing cold night, and I woke up with lots of frost on my very warm and comfy down sleeping bag. I think Michelle had it somewhat worse in her thinner synthetic.

Hot ropegun
Originally uploaded by slampoud

Day #1:
We woke up, breakfasted quickly, and headed up to the Park. We found no camping spots in the Inyo campsites outside the park, endured the traffic jam at the entrance, and stopped at the Wilderness Permit Center. It was midday, hot, and we had no place to stay. We stashed the food and went to climb at Puppy Dome. Michelle led Puppy Crack (5.7), which wasn't much to write home about. We then went around the corner and Michelle led Battle of the Bulge (5.8R, but she got a tri-cam in the R section, so not R). That was fun to follow, and had a move on the bulge that tested my shoulder. It all held, and we were feeling strong, but at that point our anxiety about where to crash that night was mounting. We decided to get a backcountry backpacking permit and rent a bear box, and headed up Murphy Creek (that being the closest hike) to camp for the night. Murphy Creek, by the way, was nearly dry, and the lake supposedly at its end... well, let's just say we never found it. We camped on some gorgeous dry water-polished slabs, had a nice dinner, and crashed early. I slept outside, using my silk sleeping bag insert as a mosquito net, while I read Shackleton's "South", the story of his expedition to Antarctica, by headlamp.

Day #3:
The next morning we made a quick breakfast, hiked out, and headed back towards the permit centers. We found a site at Tuolumne campground, and that significantly eased our anxiety over logistics. We moved the food from the Wilderness Permit Center to the site and decided to check out Lembert Dome's NW Books. When we got to the base, we found several parties already on the route, two more at the base, and one below the ramp. We had a lovely chat with the folks at the base of the ramp, while the shade ran out, and took the leader's advice to try some of the easier knob climbs. We drove to Low Profile Dome to do Golfer's Route, a 5.7 with a 5.7R second pitch. We proceeded to hang out at the base, where it was very very hot, while a party did laps on TR. When they cleared out, Michelle led it, up to the middle anchor, and decided she didn't want to do the R pitch, which could have been completed with the same rope. I seconded it and had a minor freakout at the start with my feet. It's hard to explain, but basically, my feet felt wrong in these shoes on this knobby terrain. My new Scarpa Technos are an improvement over my Mythos because I can make them tighter, and because they are a little stiffer, so they take off some of the strain of foot-jamming. On the other hand, they're more edging shoes than slab shoes, so a) I absolutely cannot "wrap" my toes around a feature, b) they have a lot of material between my toes and the rock, and c) when they fail to stick, they fail 100%, they don't slip gradually, like my old purple Mythos used to. So I stepped up and thought, "Whoa! this sucks!" Things got better as I moved up and got used to them, but I never got over the fact that the part of the shoe that's in contact with an edge may or may not have a toe behind it. This is what you get with board-lasted shoes, I guess... In any case, it was a fun climb, once I stopped freaking out about my shoes. We then decided to head to the Bunny Slopes, which we'd considered the day before, but couldn't find the approach to. We followed a gully up, and Michelle led a 5.6 knob climb, Hot Crossed Buns. I seconded it, and it felt a little more natural. Just as I felt I was getting the hang of knob climbing, I think Michelle's confidence was being sapped by the runouts between bolts on these climbs. We decided to call it a day, as the weather seemed like it was closing, got drizzled on the way back, and rounded off the day with a swim in the water hole bordering the campground.

Originally uploaded by slampoud

Day #3:
At this point, since the forecast for Sunday was looking about the same as Saturday, i.e. evening storms, we decided Cathedral Peak wasn't going to happen. We got up a bit earlier and headed back up to NW Books. This time we were first in line, but a second party arrived within minutes, and we let them go past. They were extremely fast, so that was a good decision. We roped up and I got to leading. I got to the bolt that protects the 5.6 mantle at the start of the route and decided the move directly above the bolt, which might have been a 5.6 mantle if you could get your hands on the ledge, was definitely not 5.6 unless you are 6'3'' tall. There was no way I was going to stand on featureless, vertical slab in my Scarpas long enough to get a hold of that ledge. I wasted a lot of time trying to figure out a way to do that move, and it sapped my confidence. I started doubting whether I should be on the route, and feeling the pressure of the party behind us, who were waiting to start. I thought about coming down and letting Michelle try the move, but I wanted to lead the bastard. Finally, I decided another mantle, maybe 3 feet to the left of the bolt, was a lot more doable, and went that way. (As it turned out, both Michelle and the follower of the party behind us did it the same way, whereas the leader behind me went right. Nobody pulled the alleged 5.6 mantle, assuming I had correctly identified it). The rest of the route went easily, though it took me a couple minutes to regain my confidence. I must have fiddled with my anchor building too much, because the leader of the next party decided to start just before Michelle. I wasn't expecting to see him when a head popped up around the corner. We decided to let them go ahead of us for the next pitch, which proved to be a mistake, because they were no faster. I guess I was feeling guilty for having made everyone wait while I figured out the mantle situation. The second pitch wasn't much to write home about, and we stayed roped up for the last "pitch", which was 4th class slab stuff. The summit was beautiful, and by that point we, the party behind/in front of us (depending on the pitch) and the party even further back had become fast friends. We all walked off the dome together, talking science and philosophy, and took the longer hike around the North side of the dome back to our cars. After that we returned to the campsite to have some food, and headed out to Tenaya Lake for a dip. But the weather broke before we got there and it was cold and windy by the time we reached it. Michelle went in nevertheless, while I enjoyed the torrent. We stopped to watch two guys bail off Zee Tree (which I really really want to climb!) in the rain, and returned to the campsite, where it had barely drizzled, when they made it safely to the ground, only to find that the guys were actually our campsite neighbors when they drove up later. We told them we'd been watching, but I think that must have embarrassed them, because they didn't speak a word to us.

Pancakes for breakfast
Originally uploaded by slampoud

Day #4:
Michelle made pancakes for my birthday and we struck camp in leisure. We decided to drive out of the park via the Valley and 41. The Valley was awe inspiring as ever, and we resolved to return and climb something tall in the future. 41 was a nightmare, with three or four sections of one-way traffic. We must have waited over an hour total at those sections... The rest of the drive was uneventful, and we were home by 7, in time for a birthday dinner with Dan.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Angel's Fright comeback

Go git 'em, Tiger!
Originally uploaded by slampoud
This weekend I met up with my San Diego climbing friends at Idyllwild. Francis and Rebecca are both phenomenal sport climbers, and I give them full credit for all the progress I made in my technique while I lived in San Diego. Neither of them climbs trad or multi-pitch though, and they have a real aversion to the idea of sticking their hands in a crack. A new rock gym has opened in SD, and Rebecca had hurt her shoulder training over-enthusiastically there, so she was not planning to climb in Idyllwild. But luckily she had convinced Francis to bring his harness, helmet and shoes, and so the stage was set.

Since the forecast called for temps in the 90s on Saturday, the decision had to be made on Friday night regarding whether we'd climb multi-pitch the next day, since we'd have to get up quite early to beat the heat. I proposed that we get on Angel's Fright (which I had climbed last year) and explained how I expected things to work out: 6am start, max 1 hr per pitch, I wanted to be back in camp by 3pm to beat the heat.

Francis agreed to do it. This was huge, for several reasons. First, Francis is far more experienced and knowledgeable than me, so he's usually in charge. This time, the route finding and leading would all be my responsibility. Second, Francis had never climbed trad or multi-pitch, he claims not to like crack, and he doesn't like waking up early. So it was my responsibility to make sure we weren't going to have an adventure that would permanently turn him off any of these things. Further, I've been injured for the last 6 months, and, while I've been diligently working on recovering my physical health and strength, I haven't led anything worth noting in over 6 months. So "Where's your head at?" was definitely the song playing in my head. Finally, since I usually trade leads with people, I only have one cordelette for building anchors. I have enough lockers and long slings to improvise a second good anchor, but I knew anchoring was going to be slightly stressful every other time. Despite all this, I was really excited.

I slept in my Fit, and pretty well, at that. I woke up around 5:30am, with the birds, and puttered around making breakfast and packing. Francis got up 6ish and puttered around, and we managed to leave the campground by 6:45 (before anyone else we knew) and be at the trailhead by 7am. The hike up was a pain, as usual, but we took it slow. My knee held up well, and I felt warm and calm when we got to the base of the rock. We found the base of the climb, and I proceeded to talk through my worries about whether I could lead the first pitch. Last time I had seconded it with a pack and it had been a bear. We talked over our strategy regarding whether Francis should wear or haul the pack when he came up. I was in favor of hauling, he thought he could wear it. It was his call, in the end. I racked up just as a couple guys who also wanted to do the climb showed up. At that point my resolve gelled, and I got on the climb. It was far easier, almost comfortable, without a pack. I huffed and puffed a whole bunch, but every move felt calculated, even the huffing felt controlled. I sailed through the chimney, and that set the tone for the rest of the climb.

I built an anchor and belayed Francis up. I don't think he enjoyed the first pitch, because he had that pack on. The second pitch is the most exposed and trickiest one. I did it textbook style, traversing to the right piton first, the left piton second, and thereby introducing an assload of drag to my rope. I belayed Francis up to the bottom of the chute/crack section. The next pitch was the only one I'd led when I had done the climb a year ago. It felt remarkably easy this time, as I stemmed all the way up instead of jamming my hip into the chute. The roof was, dare I say, fun! I belayed Francis up to Lunch ledge, and I think he was having fun. We hung out there and enjoyed the last of the shade, the view and the breeze for a while. The last pitch can be done in one of several ways. The decision point is above a bunch of bushes, maybe 30 feet or so up from the belay. I didn't have a plan, but I had seconded the 5.5 slab finish before, and led an alternate further left finish when we'd done Fingertrip. I got up to the bushes and was intrigued by the 5.6 lieback finish, off a beautiful flake on reasonably low angle terrain. I looked at it carefully, protected well below it, and then did the climb real slowly and deliberately. I love onsight climbing the most, and I was so pleased I got to do that, and on such a stellar pitch, to boot. I belayed Francis up, and that was that.

We topped out at noon, which was exactly as I'd wanted it. We'd been the first people on the climb, which, again, was ideal. We'd had shade for 3 out of 4 pitches, which had been fabulously comfortable. But most importantly, my knee and shoulder had held very well. During the whole climb I felt like I was well within my comfort zone, and that allowed me to enjoy it while it was happening. I love challenging myself, and I love onsighting slightly harder stuff, but there is something to be said for getting on something where you don't need to stay all that focused, or strictly within the painted lines demarcating the "Zone". There is also something to be said for being on the sharp end for a longer period of time, which I had never tried before. All in all, I think this was the most fun I've had on a trad climb, ever. There wasn't a single moment of anxiety or doubt. I guess that's what people mean when they call something "casual", but there's always a tone of derision accompanying that statement, and I strenuously object to that.

The descent was long and hot. I did it in my Vibram Five Fingers, which turned out to be superior to both my climbing shoes and my approach shoes for this task. Great discovery, that! I should mention that I did the climb in my new Scarpa Technos, which proved to be fantastic. The XSgrip rubber is definitely a match for granite, and the slightly more pointed toe (compared to Mythos) really matched my style. We were back in the car by 2:30, and my knees, especially my left one, that has a small tear in its meniscus, felt trashed.

We picked up ice on the way back to the campground, and I iced everything before heading out for beers at the Lumber Mill. A remarkably good band called Unwound rocked the joint, and we had a blast hanging out, in post-climb glow, during the hottest part of the day. Francis made fabulous paella for dinner. I slept well. I finished my book the next day. I started a new one, that Rebecca loaned to me, sitting next to a babbling brook. I got home on a nearly empty highway, whose opposite traffic direction was stopped for 80 miles!

My mind was a blank slate last night. Bliss!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Do not climb 5.6 in JTree

This weekend's lesson is in bold in the title.

I'm just kidding, but really, this was an educational weekend. Michelle and I headed to JTree on Friday night. I got there around 6, and got us site 9 in Hidden Valley. Michelle arrived around 11:30. I'd already slept a couple hours by the time she got there, so then I couldn't sleep afterwards. The howling winds didn't help, but at least it was warm and we got to sleep outside and didn't have to deal with tents.

In any event, the next morning found me drowsy. I've been out of physical therapy for about two weeks now, and the shoulder was feeling good after the first week, but starting to hurt again after the second. I had decided that I wasn't going to lead on this trip, and that I wasn't even going to climb anything harder than a 9. This left the chore of being rope-gun entirely on Michelle, who had never climbed in JTree before, and was, rightly, intimidated by its reputation for sandbagged grades.

Thus, we were looking for 5.6 cracks for Michelle to lead, in the JTree West area, since that's all that's covered in my newer guide book. Complicating our stringent requirements was the fact that it was windy and a little chilly in the morning, but things turned really hot in the sun. So we wanted sun in the morning, but not in the afternoon...

We decided to start with Mike's Books. All went well for the first pitch, which revealed to me that my cardio reserves were completely shot and the least bit of exertion made me pant. Michelle led the left variation to the start, and I started straight up the crack. When we eyeballed the second pitch, however, we thought it was a pretty clear offwidth, and without a #4, it would be dreadfully run out. We hadn't brought up the #4, so we bailed. The Mountain Project page corroborates our assessment, so I'm glad we did.

Next we were looking for something a little more challenging and maybe shady. We eyeballed Overhang Bypass, also at Intersection Rock. The first pitch looked like no problem, but the traverse, which is to bypass the overhang, looked like a bear from below, and there were no bailing options if we got spooked. I was especially freaked by the idea of having to do essentially a hand traverse (the feet looked nonexistant) on a recuperating shoulder. We passed on it, though I think Michelle was more stoked about it than I was. In retrospect I'm sure Michelle would've styled it, but I'm not sure my shoulder would have loved me.

I then located another supposed 5.6 that didn't have "chimney" in the description in Steve Canyon, Deflowered. The name should have been more of a hint. Alas, hindsight is 20-20. Michelle, always the good sport, up and led it. It was slow, grunting going for her, and I was belaying in the sun and getting very very hungry. Then she topped out with a whoop! While Michelle was finishing the anchor, I grabbed two bites out of a Gnu bar, thinking this would give me some energy for the climb. The first section of the climb was fine, strenuous, but fine. I had to take a break at the end of it to make sure I didn't barf. Note to self: do not eat 30 seconds before climbing in the heat. The middle section was most definitely a damn chimney. Michelle had placed a big cam at the very depths of the thing, so I had to go in and get it. But then I wanted to be outside the chimney and on this horizontal seam that she had placed a smaller cam in. I had heel-toed my way up and now I was pinched between two pro placements I had to remove: one required me to go deeper, one further out. Crap! I took out the outside one, which I could reach, and then got deep into the chimney to remove the other one. And then I was totally stuck. I mean mechanically stuck, no way out but to reverse my moves, but I was on toprope. I weighted the rope and just sort of swung out a little bit and resumed. What a bummer, a fall. Anyway, the grunt-fest continued all the way to the top, and I topped out thinking, this is the hardest 5.6 ever. Mountain Project folk apparently agree with me, and the rating has been upgraded to 5.7 at least.

After that we rapped to the base and took a nap, then hiked back to the campsite and took another nap in the midday heat. Later in the afternoon we headed out to the Peyote Cracks. Michelle led Right Peyote Crack, a 5.8, with a little more apprehension and shaking than before, but again in good style. I followed, again a little better than before, but not totally happy. Getting off that formation spooked the hell out of me, not being a boulderer and hating top-outs and jumps. I got down a different way from Michelle, and suffered a bunch of scratches for my efforts.

On Sunday we were fried and it was even hotter. First we checked out Touch & Go, which is Michelle's goal. Then we looked at Double Dip and Stichter Quits, which I legitimately should be able to lead, but was too spooked to try. We then headed into Real Hidden Valley to maybe climb on the Thin Wall, but that was still in the sun. Finally we drove out to Split Rock, to play on Future Games wall. But Michelle was, understandably, not feeling into leading. I totally commiserated, as that was exactly how I'd felt on Sunday during the #jtreetweetup, just done! So we thought we'd drop a toprope onto Invisibility Lessons, but we weren't sure the rope would reach (and this area is not covered by my guidebook, so no way to check), and the anchor looked like a total pain to extend over the edge. Finally we gave up and called it a day, and filed all the routes we'd seen as future projects.

It was a great weekend, despite the fact that, technically, we only got in three climbs. Usually I'm up for sharing the leading load, so it was really miserable for me to not be able to. At the same time, though, the shoulder held. I iced it on Saturday night and by Sunday morning the twinges I'd been feeling were definitely gone. That was great. Also, the partnership with Michelle is very new, and her familiarity with the area non-existent. So arguably it was a good thing to end on an up note, having challenged but not broken either of us. I have a long way to go to get back to the strength and stamina of last fall, and I'm hoping that my lead head will follow once I see I can climb things in a style that is also consistent with leading. At the moment, I don't like the way I'm climbing, I don't like that I feel out of juice, and I hate my friggin' shoes! So, onward, lots of work to be done to get back.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Climbing in Greece in Summer 2009

Racking up in the Zode
Originally uploaded by slampoud
A belated post on what we climbed during last year's trip to Greece.

The trip basically had two parts. In the first part we went to Kalamitsi, a beach in Chalkidiki where my parents have a tiny cabin. I figured, since the rock there is granite, we should be able to climb, or at least boulder some. But what I discovered was that the quality of the rock wasn't nearly as good as I remembered, and the salt and sand surrounding it didn't make things too easy either.

While Ben and I spent a couple days in Kalamitsi, my parents visited their boat, which they moor in Porto Koufo. I really wanted to talk them into taking us to Kartalia, the promontory at the tip of Sithonia, where I had heard there was some steep limestone climbing. It's one of my favorite places in the world, and I wanted to show it to Ben, so that, even if we couldn't figure out how to approach the climbs, it wouldn't be a waste of time. But there was quite a bit of wind, and we never went.

Instead, we noticed that the west side of the entrance to Porto Koufo is itself a steep limestone wall. We took the zodiac out and did some deep water soloing there for a couple days. We found a couple bolted routes, but they were heading into a chimney that was absolutely covered in batshit. Finally we decided that we thought we could see a nice trad line up the wall. We loaded up the zode, I rowed our asses all the way out, we anchored the zode with a hex (really!) and Ben led off. When he got maybe 15 or 20 feet up he realized things were a lot more broken than they looked from below, so he bailed. I rowed our asses back in.

After that it was time to hit the mountains. We humped the ropes and rack, but thankfully no camping gear, to the Kakalos refuge, which is the main climbers' refuge on the Oropedio Mouson. We went up Anathema, which is a slightly steeper route than the alternative, and it was a bitch! Of course, in my current condition I couldn't even do an hour of that hike, let alone with a pack, so I marvel, in retrospect, at the fact that I made it.

The people at the refuge were amazing, and a good reason to go back, by themselves. I had printed some beta from routes.gr, but these guys were real connoisseurs of the surrounding climbs, and had lots of additional beta to share, so that worked out really well.

The next day we climbed the Comici/Escher route, which was the first technical route ever to be climbed on Stefani. It was ridiculously easy, probably 5.3 at most, but worth doing, since we really had no feel for route finding or the quality of the rock on Olympus. We realized that the challenge in the easier routes is really not the moves, but rather rockfall. The moves on easy routes in this type of chossy limestone are, in fact, quite boring. There are tons of incut edges, and you're always facing the rock and moving up like a crab. It's nothing like climbing granite, where, aside from slab climbing, every single move is different, even at low difficulty grades.

Halfway up Stefani
Originally uploaded by slampoud
The next day we were looking for more of a challenge, so we asked around and the guys pointed us to Ahladi, another route on the front side of Stefani, to the left of C/E. We got to the base and decided to solo the first & last pitches, since using the rope just dislodged pebbles and pissed us off. I led the second and fourth pitches, and Ben led the third. Ben managed to place gear in such annoying places that I was cursing for the most part on the pitch that I followed, and I had to leave a hex behind. The most memorable part of the climb was definitely the fourth pitch, which involves a really neat traverse. Apparently people call it "the pilgrimage", because beginners often get scared and gripped, and find themselves groveling across the ledge instead of walking a little lower and keeping their hands high on the ledge. In any event, it was easy but more memorable than the rest of the choss. Ahladi was tons and tons of fun, but definitely not a challenge.

We had originally discussed also climbing Mati, a route on the other side of Stefani that day, but Ben was feeling very "accomplished", so we went back to the refuge and chilled while watching a couple of the guys open a new route on Stefani through binoculars. The next day we descended, this time via the Zonaria and the Zolotas refuge. My knees were killing me and the whole thing was abso-fucking-lutely miserable. And that was it for climbing in Greece.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Let's celebrate!

Today I went out to San Ysidro with Theresa and Jamilah. We threw a toprope on Oranguhang, the stuff to the right and the stuff to the left of it. For me this was primarily an opportunity to test my new shoulder. It seems to have held, but we'll know for sure tomorrow. It was so nice to get out!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Oh how the mighty have fallen

Being injured sucks so much. I am an endless fountain of complaints.

I went out to New Jack City this weekend, mostly to get out of Santa Barbara and see my sport climbing friends. I climbed two 5.8's that are usually my lead warmups, and onsighted an easy 9. The shoulder isn't that painful anymore so it was really hard to stay off the rock, but the experience of re-tearing the rotator cuff in March was enough to deter me.

I also got to meet Jack, the guy who set all the routes and after whom the place is named. He gave us the unofficial news that the BLM is planning on developing the site for R.V. camping, so they're putting in a proper road, campsites and toilets. And then, after a while, they're opening the canyon to windfarm development. Apparently, even though it's not optimally located for that, the fact that it's remote, hence the wind turbines won't ruin anybody's view, is a big draw to developers. So NJC will be temporarily closed to climbers during the campsite development, and then maybe again, possibly permanently, for the wind development, if they decide to do it right by the crags. The temporary closure nobody cares about anyway, since it's about to get hotter than hell in the middle of the Mojave, so climbing won't be possible again until September. The wind thing I just don't see. Who would put a turbine at the base of a chossy cliff?

By the way, Jack is a real character! I got into a conversation with him where I was defending NJC from the term "chosspile", which I've seen climbing mags using for it. But we ended up disagreeing, since he embraces that term wholeheartedly. He's all in favor of developing sport routes in chossy areas. His reasons are that good rock is usually not steep enough for his tastes, and I think he also finds it a little uninteresting if little bits aren't raining on him. I think of myself as primarily a trad climber, so the notion of chossiness goes hand in hand with the potential for gear pulling. From the sport route developer's perspective, though, that's not a consideration. NJC is supremely safely bolted. I watched Jack dance up a 12 and then heckle his girlfriend up the same climb, and I have to say, it was better than TV, better than the movies. A real character, I tell you!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Testing the TR-solo rig

Things have been quiet around here, since I re-injured my shoulder just over three weeks ago and haven't been climbing at all. I'm silently screaming in frustration.

On Saturday I ventured out, with a new climbing partner about whom I'm really excited, and checked out the Gibraltar area. We wanted to play on Lower Gibraltar, but there were people already climbing there. We checked out Gibraltar Rock, but the South face TR's were already occupied. We went up to Toxic Waste Wall, but the rock quality sketched us out -- it got badly fried in last year's fire. So we ended up at Crag Full o' BoomBoom, where Michelle led everything in style. It was chill. I TRed Tuco, and it didn't feel that great, which made me a little sad.

Yesterday I was going stir crazy dealing with work, so I decided to pop up to Lower Gibraltar and test my TR-solo system.

Before I get into my current system, here's a little about my first attempt about a month ago. I originally thought that I could TR-solo with my guide in autoblock mode + a prussik backup. I've used this setup before in low 5th class terrain (gullies) when a rope was stuck or there was some other reason why I needed to go back up to my anchor. But when I tried to use it at Lower Gibraltar, which is a reasonably steep dihedral and a steep face left of it, I realized a couple things. First of all, I shouldn't have used both strands of the rope. In fact I didn't need to, because the rope was fixed at the anchor, so I could've used just one. That was just operator error on my part. Second, since the rope obviously does not feed freely through the guide, the loop of rope that accumulates above the guide is a real problem. I kept stepping on the rope and getting tangled up. This is a problem with both a single and a double strand setup. I hadn't noticed it before on the low angle terrain, but in the steep terrain it was a definite issue. Third, the weight of the rope loop makes feeding it through the guide really hard, sometimes requiring both hands. The prussik was actually the most pleasant part of this system...

So my original plan wasn't going to work. I studied ascender devices and TR-solo resources, and decided the device I wanted to use was Petzl's microcender. I wanted a device that didn't have sharp teeth in the camming section, and that could, ideally, be used for other tasks as well, but would be primarily for TR-solo and should be bombproof for that. The microcender fit the bill, can also be used for hauling, and it weighs about half as much as the alternatives. That probably means it'll wear out twice as fast, but that remains to be seen. Note that it's not indicated for lead-solo or even TR falls with slack in the rope. I think it's meant to work best on fixed, static lines, but it seems like a lot of people use it on their regular dynamic ropes. It's a gorgeous little device, that's very simple to set up and break down.

At first my plan was to have the microcender set up on my belay loop, on one strand, and a prussik backup going to my belay loop, at eye level, either on the same strand or the other strand. When I set that up I realized that the prussik was now the annoyance in the system, because it was impacting how the rope was feeding into the microcender, and also the loop it made was flopping around, threatening to get tangled up with the microcender. I'm especially aware of the possibility of something snagging the microcender's handle and keeping it from doing its job, so having a sling flopping around in the vicinity was a definite no no.

After tying in short, setting up the system and taking a bunch of test falls on the microcender I was ready to trust it alone. I knew that the rope has to be weighted a little in order to feed through the microcender by itself, but I didn't know how much. The pitch I was climbing is only about 1/4 length of rope up, so I piled the loose rope at the bottom of the climb onto the end, hoping that the weight of half the 10mm rope would be sufficient. For the first half of the climb, it wasn't, so I had to occasionally help the rope through the device. I could do that single-handed so it wasn't a big hindrance on 5.8 terrain. For the second half of the climb the weight was enough and the rope fed through just fine. People have suggested using a quart sized water bottle as a weight, or fixing the line on the ground, both of which are great ideas if you're planning to return to the ground. I was climbing at a place where you rap down from your anchor to climb, so I wanted to be able to pull up the rope behind me with no snags.

I have come up with only one way to switch from microcender-belay to rappelling with my guide at the top of the climb (I wanted to do one more lap, so I was headed back down). That is to tie directly into the anchor, unweight and remove the microcender, then set up the guide for rap. It seems like there should be some way to go directly from the microcender to the guide, but I don't see what that is. If I set up the guide below the microcender, there is no way to remove the microcender because it's loaded (it's not like a grigri, where the lever unloads the cam). So I need a point of leverage above the microcender to load my weight onto. Setting up the guide above the microcender is obviously not an option, since my weight is on the rope. Thus it seems that the only way to switch to rapelling is to offload to a point (anchor or prussik) above the microcender, remove the microcender, then set up the rappel. Interesting...

In summary the system seems to work. I'm not entirely happy about using a single device. A possibly better setup would be to have one microcender at chest level and one at the belay loop, similar to Steph Davis' setup (except she uses mini-traxions, which have sharp teeth). On this test day I didn't really enjoy myself climbing, both because I was stressed out by all this rigging, but also because my shoulder is completely messed up. Time will tell if knowing how to set this up will enable some fun for me in the future, or whether it will prove too stressful to use regularly. They say that roped soloing is another level again in the mind game that is climbing, and I agree. My stomach was in knots both times I worked on this stuff. I don't even try something unless I've spent hours researching it and mentally working it out, and, despite that confidence that I have the principles fully in command, it's stressful to tie in for a TR-solo. We'll see how it feels next time...

Update: My friend Rick has written a blogpost, adding his observations to my thoughts on roped-soloing.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Riverside Quarry

I've been dying to go to the Riverside Quarry, since everyone I know raves about it. The opportunity presented itself this weekend, when a bunch of the San Diego folks were planning to drive up, so I ditched family (who knows what I owe for that?) and drove down. It's about a 2.5 hour drive, if you don't get lost getting off the 101 to the 60 ;-)

The location is a man-made abandoned granite quarry. There is shade in the morning and sun in the afternoon. The invitation said only those comfortable leading 5.10s need apply. That, technically, is a sticking point for me, as I can only reliably lead 10a without falls, but the other attendees were friends, so they overlooked my shortcomings.

One of the fun aspects of the day is that we got to watch the main developer of the area set a bunch of routes. Apparently there was a section of rock that already had routes on it, but that was a little loose, so they rapped from above, pried it loose with crowbars and dropped the loose section. There was a lot of debris! So while we were there climbing, this route setter was on rap from above cleaning the rock, chipping holds and bolting. Very interesting!

We warmed up on a 5.10b, followed by a 10d, another 10b, two rounds on one 11a and another 11a, all on toprope, for me. I flailed on everything but the 10d, which I cruised and everyone else fell on. Wtf? It was awkward and balancey, which I guess must be my style. Either way, it was a very very fun day of pushing my limits, and I can't wait to go back.

On the minus side, I'm starting to be not that fond of my women's mythos. They seem to have a thicker sole than my old men's pair had, and as a result they don't feel very sensitive.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Matilija Wall

This picture is taken from the junction of Hwy 33 and S Matilija Rd, i.e. the road to the Matilija Hot Springs/Sanctuary.

And here's the google maps satellite view. It's the thingy casting a really big shadow in the center of the map.

View Larger Map

Friends tell me that this is the Matilija Wall. Apparently the most famous route on it is the 5.9 Chouinard-Bossier about which there is some information here. There used to be access via a small road called Camino Cielo, but that's been blocked by a private land owner. The approach from the dam is apparently choked in poison oak. We'll have to figure out some way to get there...

Monday, March 8, 2010

Chuggin' along

Me on the Chube #3
Originally uploaded by slampoud
I really love this photo Dima took, so I'm linking it for no other reason. My blog, my rules :-D

Well, I'm done with PT and I took a whole week of just doing yoga and then I headed back to the gym. I've met up with someone I got started climbing two years ago who stuck with it, and that made me feel really good. Also met a potential future partner that has me really stoked. A couple gals and I did an out of town trip to a gym two weekends ago, which was a blast. All in all, I'm coming back slowly. Having someone to "mentor" (and I don't like the presumptuousness of that word, so I'm going to explain that my sort of mentoring is simply acknowledging that I have more experience and therefore some information to impart to the mentee, and that's about it) is a really nice motivation to be consistent and show up at the gym with a positive attitude. I'm trying to keep up the PT exercises and starting to add some cardio before climbing so I waste less time warming up on the wall. I'm also icing religiously. Not eating all that well, but one at a time. Oh and I switched to sitting on a balance ball instead of my desk chair after a particularly long day of 8 hours of hacking reduced me to tears from the back pain. Yeah, chuggin' along. I'll get there.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Probably my worst character trait is that I don't remember the bad times. This doesn't just go for climbing, it goes for everything, but because I seem to get into these cycles of strength followed by misery a lot when it comes to climbing, I feel the need to document the phenomenon as a cautionary tale to myself.

To make a long story short, the last month or so has been one of misery. It all began with an overzealous traverse-bouldering session over lunch on a weekday. Someone walked into the gym and wanted to take a belay test, so I offered to help. I was halfway through my workout, so by the time I was done helping with their test I'd cooled down. I figured I'd better get warm again, so I ended up climbing, by myself, longer than usual. I gave up because at some point I was doing a weird move on the bouldering wall and my shoulders felt tweaked. I figured, OK, I've gone longer than usual, maybe I'm tired, I should quit. And I did. In the next few hours the most horrific pain ever congealed all over my shoulders, back and neck. It was massive, it was burning and it was AWFUL! I credit my own stupidity for what turned out to be a massive multi-muscle cramp: not bringing a water bottle, and therefore not hydrating during the whole session, and the longer-than-usual session. Tsk tsk, I should have known better.

I hammered myself on ibuprofen, went to the doc, got 4 weeks of PT and generally did things right, and I'm fine now. Fine meaning pain free. But the process was miserable, and where I am now is miserable. I hadn't worked out nearly enough since the move in December (and the NSF meeting in January, and parents visiting in February ... you get the picture), but this forced break ... well it broke me. All those gains in upper body and finger strength are gone. All that pre-December confidence is gone. I now hurt in 4 places after climbing. I need more ice-packs than I have! And the fact that all I have at my disposal to train back up is the UCSB gym, whose dissertation-related cooties I haven't gotten over... that just adds to my misery. I hate how small that gym is, because I get bored too fast when I'm traversing on my own. I hate how the routes there are set -- I need to write up my route-setting rant someday. I hate the pace that having to tie in with a figure 8 enforces (i.e. it slows me down between climbs and my muscles never get hot enough). I guess you could say I'm down in the dumps right now. I hope it's some sort of post-parent winter blues ;-)

Friday, January 29, 2010

A guest post: Gender & climbing

Hi, my name is Kegan Allee and I'm a PhD student in Sociology at the University of California in Santa Barbara. My dissertation combines two great loves of mine: gender studies and climbing. I'm looking for female climbers to interview for my research. I'm trying to get as many different perspectives as possible with respect to experience, level of climbing, etc. I'm particularly interested in how women use their bodies and their perspectives on risk taking. The interviews, which have been lasting between 1-2 hours, have all been conducted in person so far, but I am open to doing phone interviews as well. I can drive to meet people as well. My goal is to produce scholarship that will be interesting to both the climbing community and the academic world, and which explores the similarities as well as differences between female and male climbers. Please feel free to send me an email (allee at umail dot ucsb dot edu) if you are interested in participating in my research or if you'd simply like more information about my project. Thanks in advance!

Note from the editor ... ahem ... Teri: I did my interview with Kegan this week, and it was fun and got me thinking about all sorts of interesting stuff! I highly recommend the experience, and I'm happy to discuss it if anyone has questions. I should point out that you may choose to remain anonymous (or have a pseudonym) in the reporting of the results, and that Kegan will run the transcript by you, to ensure it meets with your approval and that nothing you said has been misconstrued.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A day in JTree

Sunset Drama - Denouement
Originally uploaded by slampoud

D and I took off midday on Saturday and headed out to JTree, where Dima and Karen had grabbed the last available camping spot in Ryan. The sunset was mindblowing, the dinner amazing, and we got to use our dual Mountain Hardwear Cloud's Rest setup, which worked really well.

The gang
Originally uploaded by slampoud

The next day we got a midmorning start to Barker Dam, where I was hoping to get some time to work on Gunsmoke (having missed the opportunity during the #jtreetweetup). We enjoyed walking around and taking pics, and by the time we got to Gunsmoke there were a whole bunch of other people playing on it, so we picked a spot with some easier problems and clambered. The most memorable part for me was getting to work on the Chube, a V2 right-slanting crack. I have a pretty serious fear of being high off the ground unroped, so I avoid high boulder problems in general. Even without topping out (which I doubt I'm capable of, anyway), the Chube was higher than any outdoor problem I've worked. I really enjoyed the little bugger! I hadn't expected that.

Dima on the Eye 8
Originally uploaded by slampoud
When we got hungry, we headed back to the cars and ate, and then returned to the Intersection Rock parking lot to try our luck at the Eye (5.3). I led it, making three placements, with D on belay, and then Dima followed me. The Eye is a very dramatic-looking route, and, though it's an easy climb, it has many elements, like awkward moves and a little exposure, that make it exciting to a beginner.It was starting to get cold and blustery by the time we were done, so we called it a day for the outdoors and reconvened at Crossroads for some food.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Weekend fun at Echo

I've been trying to find some strong women to climb with, mostly because it's a form of climbing partnership I've never tried that I think would work well. So when the chance to head out to Echo Cliffs with Eileen (aka @rockgrrl), who designed the awesome bag I take to work every day, presented itself, I jumped on it. Ben and I had visited Echo last May, and it had been hot and oppressive. We'd ticked a few climbs in the Grotto and retreated. My friend Max, an excellent Italian climber, had raved about the place, but we hadn't had a chance to find the climbs he'd been raving about. In retrospect, they would have been in the sun, so it's just as well. Eileen, Kelly, Peter and I headed to the Java wall where we were joined by Matt. It was really crowded, but patience paid off and pretty soon we were nearly alone and enjoying ourselves. I followed Morning Glory (9) to get my head straight, then cruised Bushwhacked (8) and a B-line (10a). I was fascinated by Black Tide (9) on a black streak in a corner, and can't wait to go back and give it a go. It was a bit hot, and I was with new people so I didn't especially try to tick the maximum number of routes possible. Also Pete could use a ride back to Oxnard early, so I obliged. In any case, I can't wait to go back and jump on Black Tide, and maybe also work the 11s on the Java wall if someone can set the toprope. Eileen just posted a quick post with pics!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Request for Beta: Mt. Erasmus in Alberta, Canada

Mt. Erasmus
Originally uploaded by slampoud

Last fall I was in Banff for a conference, and then I took a couple days off and backpacked the trail to Glacier Lake. Just as you approach the lake, off to the right is this absolutely stunning mountain, which my map identified as Mt. Erasmus. It's really steep and seems to have all sorts of imposing dihedrals.

I'm going back to Banff in September 2011 and I thought that might be a good opportunity to try to climb the beast. So I've been searching for information, and, surprisingly, there's very very little to be found. My friend Alex helped me locate a reference to an ascent of the north face by Tom Thomas and Gil McCormick. There's is also a trip report on the Ayers/Oberlin route on bivouac.com, but we don't have the necessary membership to access it.

If you have a membership that could get us access to the above TR, or know anything about the mountain, or could put me in touch with someone who does, I would be very grateful! There are at least two very over-excited Southern Californians roaring to climb it!

Request for Beta: Thorn Point

Thorn Pt from Sespe Creek trail
Originally uploaded by slampoud

Alli and I recently went on a hike on the Sespe Creek trail, heading East from the Piedra Blanca trailhead. Since I have a new camera with a crazy zoom, I was able to satisfy my curiosity by taking close-ups of a crag Ben and I had noticed on that hike before. As seen from just past the trailhead, I believe that this is Thorn Point. It looks like a big white slab.

As you continue down the trail, though, its side becomes visible, and you can tell that the angle of the slab is quite low. Nevertheless, the stuff on the side of the slab, which in shadow in this second picture, looks like it might be tall enough to offer some climbing possibilities.

The map reveals that there is a fire watchtower at the top of Thorn Pt, and a ~3 mile trail takes you there from its back side. So I'm thinking I'll grab camping gear and scout it out, and, if it looks promising, come back and climb it some time. Does anyone have any information on the place?

Playing catchup on holiday posts -- Malibu Creek

I hadn't been to Malibu Creek since I was a beginner last year, so when my San Diego sport climbing buddies invited me, I was definitely game. As it turns out, the drive is only just over an hour long from SB, which makes it the closest quality crag to home. When I arrived at the park entrance, I stopped to pay the fee and stalled the car. Then I started driving away before getting my change back. On the 20 second drive to the parking lot I decided I probably wasn't in any kind of mental shape to be leading -- residual alcohol poisoning from New Year's Eve? Making the decision in advance helped keep the rest of the day enjoyable. My mentor from San Diego led everything and I seconded. We did a 9, an 8, a couple 10a's and a 10b. I was tempted to try the 11a on the Apes wall, but it was already getting dark by then. The next day my forearms were pretty pumped, which was new. I can't think of the last time I had sore forearms a whole day after climbing! In any case, I got my gym membership yesterday, so I'll work on remedying that.

Playing catchup on holiday posts -- Christmas

Christmas was unexpectedly awesome this year! Dan took 4 days off and we hit the Eastern Sierra. I was all for camping at the pinyon forest, but he doesn't have a winter down bag, and my 4 season tent is really a 1.5 person tent, which gets old if I run into real weather and have to not touch the walls. I have a plan for turning our 2-person 3-season into a 4-season, but in this case, we decided to be posh and get a room. After a bit of looking around, I decided we should stay at Tom's Place Lodge, halfway in-between Bishop (where my heart lives year round) and Mammoth, where Dan's interest in skiing was likely to be focused.

Dan wanted to get some skiing in. I, on the other hand, have never skied in my life. So I figured, we'd best get that out of the way and go on the first day. We headed up to Mammoth, rented skis, got lift tickets for three beginner slopes, and Dan taught me how to A-frame, make turns and all that good stuff. He started me out with poles, instead of without, which I'm told is the custom, and I think, in retrospect that was a mistake. When we tried a slope that was half a level of difficulty harder than the bunny hill before it, I got going too fast for comfort. Climber that I am, I figured I'd better fall. And fall I did, but I forgot one leg behind me and something on the back of my left knee (the one that messed up our trip to Bart Dome in summer? that one) popped. Nevermind. Got back up to try it again, same story. Fall I did, and this time my left wrist (the one that spent a few weeks in a brace over the summer? that one) got wrenched by the pole, which I tried to use to control my speed. At that point I decided I'd probably be paying for those two re-injuries for weeks, so it might be a good time to stop. Dan did a couple more runs and we called it a day, with me deciding that in skiing it's safer to keep going until you can slow down than to fall.

We had a great Christmas dinner and whole bunch more fun, which I won't go into details about. What does belong in a climbing blog, however, was the fact that I took us down the gully descent into Owen's River Gorge with snow and ice on the ground. We had no poles, and in retrospect, probably shouldn't have gone. It was quite slippery.

On our last day we decided to break up the driving a bit by stopping to climb at the Alabama Hills. We went to the corridors and did a couple really easy slab climbs on very very bad granite, and an arete 5.6 that I'd been warned was "spicy", but somehow hadn't registered the fact. It was a little worse than spicy, in my opinion. I'm pretty sure I've never had to take on a 6 before! In any case, it was a blast, and I'm stoked to have the "Bishop Area Rock climbs" guide book as a result!