Rare Gems: Bouldering in VA

First…wow.  Do I suck.  I haven’t updated this thing since January 1st.  I can blame this on work and other time-consuming activities, but ultimately, they are just excuses, and I find myself trying to lead an excuse-free life.  Unsuccessfully, it would seem.

Any who, I write this from scenic Zion Crossroads, VA.  No, seriously, there is some nice scenery here.  But how does one who works and lives in Philadelphia find themselves 250 miles from home, you may ask?  One of my oldest friends, someone I’ve known and been close with for going on 20 years now (and that number just hit me like a ton of bricks) is getting married today, so that’s why I find myself south of the Mason Dixon line and in the heart of the Bible Belt.

I was going to try to hit a local climbing gym, being that the ceremony isn’t until 5:00 this evening, but when I texted Darcey (the bride-to-be) about the quality, she let me know that her fiance was going bouldering in the morning, and that I could come along if I wanted.  I hadn’t really hung out with the guy more than once, but an invite is an invite, and I liked the idea of getting my hands on some real rock.  (See the last time I posted, above?  Probably been just about as long since  I pulled on any routes, plastic, real or otherwise.)

So, at 8:30 this morning, Chance (the fiance) picked me up at the hotel in his pickup, and we made our way to a little spot called Mormmon’s Boulder (I think…something like that).  It seems to me, the outsider, to be tucked away in the rolling hills and woods nestled between the multitude of family farms in the area, and it really is a pleasant spot.  The rock reminded me a lot of the quality rock that is around Philly, with these striations that ran at 45 degree angles from right to left and slightly overhanging.  Good positive surfaces as well, and a lot of options for problems.

We warmed up on a few easier ones, and some of Chance’s climbing buddies showed up.  I was little intimidated at first, not socially, but with the prospect that these guys all obviously climbed a lot, and here I had been slacking for 9 months now and had lost much of my strength and endurance.  What was nice, though, was that these guys were all very cool and reminded me of my buddies from college, and they were not at all judgmental, so it turned into a nice morning of destroying our hands and sending some nice problems.

As time ran low (the man had a wedding to get to, remember), we wrapped up with a simple problem that was an all-points-off dyno of about 6 or 7 feet.  Chance and his friend both nailed it on the first go, and in my three attempts, I was able to get one hand on the in-cut lip, but swung off all three times, the last time tweaking my ankle a bit.

A couple of things that I am taking away from today’s little excursion:

  1. My knee is doing better than I had originally thought.  I had been having awful pain in my knee, radiating down to my foot, and the doctor chalked it up to an inflamed bone.  Treatment: no running for at least 6 weeks, resting it up.  It still felt tender from time to time when I would walk any distance, and it was especially pronounced when there was any kind of incline.  No pain today, though (so far), so this is making me feel as though it’s getting better and maybe I can push myself a little more (no running yet, but maybe some more climbing…)
  2. I need to get back to climbing more.  I have the home “gym” now, and I really need to be making better use of it.  I always take some time off every year, but not usually this long, and today reminded me of why I enjoy climbing so much: the movement, the moment, the camaraderie.  Time to get back to that, and try to capture at least two out of three for a while. (None of my climbing partners live anywhere near me.)

Hopefully I will also be able to convince myself to write more often as well.

The Terra Initiative

First, Happy New Year!  I hope that you have a very prosperous 2010 filled with love, laughter and success.  But something to keep in mind is that all of these things are within your grasp every single day…sometimes, all that is lacking is the will to reach out and take it.  Good luck and prosperous times are not something that happen to us, they are things that we make happen.  Go and make it happen for yourself in 2010.

In a similar vein, I have been toying around with this idea specifically for a few months now, and more generally for a few years, and I think that I think that the timing is finally right to pursue this idea.

The Terra Initiative

In 2010, I am going to be starting the Terra Initiative Scholarship Fund, a scholarship program aimed at aiding students who wish to go to college and study environmental sciences that will lead to greener technology, such as alternative fuels, renewable/sustainable energy, etc.

It will be a slow process, creating this project, and it will be small at first.  And it may never get to the point where it is able to give students a free ride.  But I really feel that if by offering some small amount to a deserving student, perhaps they will be that much more excited about pursuing the goal of building greener technology.  Perhaps that little amount will be just enough to help someone get the opportunity to actually go to college.

Greener technologies are going to happen.  Frankly, I feel that it will be the next big technology boom, much like computers were in the 80s, the internet in the 90s, and handheld technology was in the 00s (kinda weird saying that their over, huh?)

Call to Action

So I’m asking for your help.  I have a lot to learn about starting a nonprofit, and one of my goals today is to hit Barnes and Noble and start researching what I will need to do.  I will be setting up a website for the Terra Initiative soon, and I’m sure that there are several dozen other little things that will need to happen.  And it will be at least a year before any monies will be able to be dispersed or awarded.

But if you are interested in helping, in volunteering your time, your knowledge, your services, please contact me.  Or at least let me know your thoughts.

All the best in 2010.

Fall Down, Go Boom

How is it that I can climb rocks that are 30 stories high and never get injured (knock on wood), but I hurt myself doing the most benign things?  4 years ago I pinched a nerve in my back while picking up my cell phone, and this summer, I bruised and bloodied myself when I fell as I was vacuuming the pool.  I am a walking calamity.  I bruised and scraped up the back of my leg, scraped up my right hand, and bent the pole that attaches to the vacuum.  Awesome. 

Fortunately, I made a fool of myself after I went running and climbing that day, and bagged another first ascent. 

I tend to take the summers off from climbing, especially August, because 1) the humidity makes it a rather uncomfortable experience, and 2) I need some time to recharge my batteries.  I was trying to avoid the time off this year, as I would really like to make a breakthrough in my ability to climb harder stuff, but between the weather and my own lack of motivation, I had once again have been without vertical movement for about a month.  While having so much free time was nice and, for the most part, relaxing, I am happy to be back at work, so that I can continue to finance my training.  (Oh yeah, and pay some bills and generally feel like a productive member of society.) 

We had been plagued by some decent storms for a few weeks, including the outer storm swell from Hurrican Bill, and as such, the park still had some significant muddy patches…you know, the kind of mud that can steal a shoe.  That day, it was just dry enough to get on the rocks, though, and I made another attempt at a project in the Cove.

I finally nailed the sequence (and, sadly, it’s much easier than I originally hoped and thought).  Free Wave (V1).

I am of mixed opinions about my climbs there.  On the one hand, there is plenty for the average climber to do there, which is appealing, as most places that I have been to don’t have a lot in the easy range.  On the other hand, I feel as though the climbs, and area as a whole, lack a certain legitimacy because of the lack of a signature, hard problem.

I am sure that this can and will be remedied by someone…but I would be lying if I said that there wasn’t a small part of me that hopes that I am able to fulfill that need.  Call it ego or whatever.  In the end, however, as long as my friends are able to enjoy the climbing there, I will be happy.

Until then, I am going to reflect on my own luck and clumsiness.

Trip Report: Gunks by Headlamp

I was searching fervently for the old piton hammered into one of the many horizontal cracks of the final stretch of rock on High Exposure.  The temperature had plummeted once the sun had set, and now my hands were beginning to feel numb against the cold stone.  My forearms were pumped, and I was hoping that the narrow beam of my headlamp would be able to catch a glint of the weathered iron before my fingers lost their grip.

103_0195The day had started off before the sun had risen.  What started originally as an excuse to get out of the house while my wife hosted a “skin care party” turned in to a reason to celebrate, as after ten months, I had finally landed a job that was starting on Monday.  I was greeted by what looked to be the first real frost of the season coating my car.  Some scraping, a quick stop at Wawa for a Sizzli, and a Starbuck’s Chai later, I was motoring on I-95 North towards New Paltz.

The trip up went quickly, and as I drove to the Bistro it was shaping up to be an excellent day.  The multi-use camp sites looked to be empty, a good sign that there weren’t many climbers there and that Scott and I would not be standing in line to hit some of the more popular routes.  While I was pleasantly surprised, I found it odd with it being such nice weather.  As I rounded the corner that brought me to the Bistro those hopes started to melt: the parking lot was packed.

Tandem bikes? Really?  All of these people were here to ride tandem bikes?  This was great for us, but I mean…come on.  Tandem bikes?  Really?

103_0210We started the day on Beginner’s Delight.  I had never climbed it before, but it came highly recommended by Wolins.  I learned here that I really need to learn my left from my right.  Todd Swain’s Book of Lies describes the route as starting at a left-facing corner system, so of course, I was eyeing up a right-facing corner (which turned out to be Overhanging Layback).  I realized the mistake before we started, and with the help of a couple of other climbers, we found the start of Beginner’s Delight and started up.

103_0200The first pitch is an easy scramble and was relatively uneventful, save for me inhaling a lungful of seeds from some plant.  I spent about 15 minutes coughing up a lung after that.  The second pitch is a solidly fun corner climb with a left traverse towards the second belay.  The third pitch is the “money pitch”, with two roofs that need to be navigated to top out.  All in all, a ton of fun for its grade (5.3), and worth repeating.

We planned to hit Frog’s Head next, but there was a group already top roping the first pitch.  As we approached the base of the cliff, there was someone on City Lights with two dogs, one of which was a black lab that was sitting, wagging his tail and doing the typical “pay attention to me” whining that all labs seem to do.  He came over and sat down in front of me, so I started to pet his neck.  He started to growl.  This was strange to me, being a lab owner and knowing that generally, they are the friendliest dogs on the planet.  I started to withdrawal my hand when he suddenly snarled and bit my arm.  Fortunately, I was wearing my soft shell and no damage was done to my arm (or my jacket).  The owner benignly called the dog over, and didn’t bother to offer an apology.  I wasn’t sure what to make of this until I saw him pull his rope and have it almost land on someone without him warning anyone or yelling, “Rope!”, so I am chalking it up to bad manners and this guy just being a douche.

Rather than stick around, we headed over to RMC, a climb that I had completed during our last trip in the spring.  It’s definitely worth climbing, with the middle section between the tree “belay” and the GT ledge having a quality sequence there.  The last pitch is nice climbing as well, and if you decide to trust all of the old pitons, you can practically climb it without using your own gear. (Not that I would recommend that.)

By this point, I was feeling pretty confident and wanted to get one more route in, so I floated the idea of hitting High Exposure to my brother.  He had never climbed it before, and being that it is one of the top 5 classics of the Gunks, I figured that it was worth a shot.

It was about 4:00 when we finally started the first, long pitch of High E.  I figured that we would probably be rapping off in the dark, so we both had our headlamps with us.  I flew up the first pitch, trying to save daylight and keep my momentum going.  The plan was to top out at just about dusk, rap off, hike out and grab some dinner.  Aside from my Sizzli earlier in the morning, all I had to eat all day was a peanut butter Powerbar, so my stomach was growling.

103_0223Things were going smoothly with Scott cruising up the easy holds…and then nothing.  No movement.  I figured he was trying to get one of the pieces of pro out and it was being stubborn.  2 minutes passed, then 5…and no movement.  The sun was inching closer to the horizon and dipping behind the mountains, and the shadows were growing longer.  Lights around the valley were twinkling on.  10 minutes.  I repositioned myself to peer over the edge of the belay ledge to check in with Scott as he wrestled with one of the cams.  Finally, it popped out and he was on his way.

Dusk had settled in solidly when I began climbing up to the roof of the top pitch.  I felt the familiar flutter in my stomach and chest as I approached the move, that scary-ass move that makes you feel like you are stepping out into nothing, the move that had turned me away 4 years ago and I finally conquered in May.  I cruised through it and began the sprint up to the top on the overhanging jugs.  At this point, dusk was a memory.  It was dark.  It was night.  And here I was, navigating the last section of High E by headlamp.   My hands were self-clenching, my fingers were beginning to feel numb with cold, my calves were burning, and I could only see about 4 feet in front of me…it was awesome.  I set the belay, and began hauling up the rope in the biting wind, enjoying the view of the valley, all lit up against the night’s chill.

103_0227Now it was Scott’s turn.  With the way High E is situated, communication between the climber and the belayer is virtually impossible, so I could only use my best guess as to his progress based on the rate the rope was moving.  At first, it was moving through my new belay device quickly.  Then…nothing.  Again.  He was at the move.  He was going to have to step out on to a tiny foothold out over (what now would appear to be) the infinite black maw.  He was going to have to reach up blindly though the crack overhead and feel for that little point of purchase.  He was going to have to trust that, once he finally stood up on that little foothold, the little bit of purchase his hand would have would turn into a great side pull.  Then, an easy jug haul to the top.

The long pause continued.  Was he going to turn back?  Was he going to turn away, as so many other had before, and so many will?  Finally, the rope started moving through the belay device again.  He had committed to the move in the dark.  He slowly made his way up the finally stretch, and as I saw his headlamp top the edge of the cliff, I asked him what he thought.

“Jesus Christ.  Fuck you.”  He was shaken and scared.  He finished up the climb, stumbled over to where I was belaying, and sat down.  After about a minute of catching his breath, he started to relax.  We found our way to the rappel chains, made our way down, collected our gear, and headed into town for a well-deserved bowl of Bacchus’ chili.  And we started planning on who should go up on High E next.

103_0231On a side note, I got to use the Mad Rock Mad Lock belay device that I got with their Fukubukuro offer a few weeks ago.  It functions basically the same as a Petzal Reverso, but is a few grams lighter.  Belaying, it worked like a pro.  Rappelling, on the other hand, was a bit jerky, as the extra bar in the device that allows for better belaying with thinner ropes (mine’s a 9.4) creates a lot of friction and makes the beginning part of rappelling, when there is already a lot of friction from the weight of the rope, much harder.  I’ll have to use it a few more times before I decide whether or not to keep on using it.

W4DW: @#$% Risotto!

103_0129Hell’s Kitchen is one of my favorite shows.  My wife and I watch it religiously, along with Kitchen Nightmares, so it may be more accurate to say that we are Gordon Ramsay fans.

In watching Hell’s Kitchen, it is inevitable that you will hear Ramsay tearing one of the contestants a new asshole for not cooking the risotto properly; it’s either under- or over-cooked, or it’s too salty or bland.  The one and only time I was somewhere that served risotto was at a hotel outside of Dublin, Ireland, and what was served was incredibly bland and resembled watery oatmeal.  Needless to say, I was not impressed.

I started to wonder: how hard can it be to make risotto?  I chanced across a recipe by Ramsay for Mushroom and Tomato Risotto, and decided to give it a shot.

Turns out, it isn’t that hard, it’s just time consuming and requires some attention.  There really is no way to make this receipe without taking about a half hour dedicated to cooking it; there is a fair amount of layering of flavors and slowly adding ingredients to not overwhelm the consistency.  The end result, though, is very tasty and worth it.  I gave some to my father-in-law, and he thoroughly enjoyed it, so I have independent confirmation on this.

To Burn, or Not To Burn

…that is the question.  Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer boredom, or crushing defeat…

The Midnight Burn is coming up on the 31st.  For those not from the area, this is one of the larger bouldering competitions on the East Coast, and has been running for nearly 15 years now.  I think that I have about 5 or 6 under my belt at this point, have worked 2 of them (one of which I shot the video for…see below), and am contemplating entering this year.

Here is my conundrum: I haven’t been seriously climbing/training for a while now, what with the lack of funds, so I am far from my best shape.  I went to the summer “Burn” in July, but was grossly disappointed with the whole affair, from my performance to the way the thing was run (which was stacked against intermediate climbers).  If I were to enter in the Beginner’s division, I would probably win (or be bumped up to intermediate, depending on my score), but this would definitely be a sandbagging situation, as I know that I climb harder than the Beginner division.  If I enter the Intermediate division, I will definitely not place at all, and will more than likely be disappointed with my performance.  (My wife will tell you that I am incredibly on myself and hyper-self-critical.)

I know that in some ways, the spirit of the competition is not to necessarily win (then why keep score?) but to enjoy the camaraderie of other climbers who share your passion and climb some really cool problems, which will not be in short supply if the route setting follows past years’ examples.  And if a group of us were attending, or were I still close with the climbers at the gym, I would probably be more gung-ho for going this year.

But, alas, there will not be a group attending; Chuck’s Halloween party is that night, and for some reason, the comp doesn’t start until 3.  If you have ever entered a bouldering comp before, you know that 3:00 really means something like 3:45.  Such is that way of these things.

I am pretty sure there will be no Burn for me this year.  It just isn’t in the cards.  Sadly, this has not been a very good fall for climbing for me…no semi-annual Gunks trip, no Burn, not a lot of climbing at all…

Enough with the self-flagellation.  The next couple of weeks, I think that I am going to try and get my thoughts on training for beginners, specifically kids, down on “paper”.  Until then, please, enjoy the video from the 2005 Midnight Burn.  The music is by a band called Silvertide, and my wife had the pleasure of being the drummer’s high school Spanish teacher.