Cragmama "Not all who wander are lost…" JRR Tolkien

Cragfamily in Niagara Falls!

At first glance, the largest waterfall in North America sounds pretty awesome, but also sounds a little random as far as family vacations go for us.  It’s a looooong way away, and there aren’t even any rocks nearby on which to climb.  However, I have an aunt, uncle, and several cousins that live in upstate NY, one of which got married just a couple of weeks ago.  When we were planning our trip,we couldn’t help but notice that Niagara Falls was a mere 30 minutes away from the Buffalo airport.  It seemed a shame to get so close to such a recognizable landmark and not even see it, so we decided to head up a day early for some extra sightseeing.

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We basically had around 24 hours to explore – all of Thursday afternoon and evening, and Friday morning.  Here’s what we were able to cover in that amount of time…

CAVE OF THE WINDS – Though not an actual cave (apparently there was at one time, but it collapsed), this self-guided walk along an observation deck/stairs allowed us to get up close and personal with the American and Bridal Veil Falls.   Ponchos are included in the cost (as well as water sandals, which we declined since we’d come in with appropriate footwear), so our clothes were fairly dry by the end, although I was sporting raccoon eyes from running mascara.  The power of the water coming off the falls was amazing, especially from the upper “Hurricane Deck.”

Ready for Cave of the Winds!

Ready for Cave of the Winds!

MAID OF THE MIST – This is probably the most well-known tour in the area.  Don your blue poncho, jump aboard, and float along the Niagara River for some awesome views of all three waterfalls that make up Niagara Falls.  The boat moves very slowly, and hangs out in front of the Horseshoe Falls for several minutes, leaving ample time for family photo opps (just be mindful of the spray when you get your camera out!)

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RAINBOW BRIDGE – This bridge connects the US to Canada.  You can travel across by car, of course, but we thought it was fun to walk across.  Border crossing was easy-peasy (grown-ups need passports, but the kids could just use birth certificates.)

CANADIAN SIDE – We had heard that the Canadian side had the best views, and the panoramas were certainly spectacular.  The best side for photos, for sure.  Apparently there are a lot of theme park type things on the Canadian side as well, but we weren’t into all the commercial stuff.  After a way overpriced dinner at Hard Rock Cafe, we made our way back to the homeland.

Christmas card possibilities in Canada

Christmas card possibilities in Canada

GOAT ISLAND – This is the island that separates the Horseshoe Falls from Bridal Veil Falls.  This is also where you go to do the Cave of the Winds tour.  Even if you aren’t doing Cave of the Winds, Goat Island is still a worthy stop.  It offers the best view of the Horseshoe Falls on the American side.  And although we aren’t foodies by any means, the Top of the Falls restaurant was awesome – a wide variety of food on both the adult and children’s menus, with VERY reasonable prices.  To be honest, we were wishing that we’d eaten there the night before as well, instead of dumping so much money on Hard Rock Cafe!

Double rainbows just over the brink of Horseshoe Falls

Double rainbows just over the brink of Horseshoe Falls

THREE SISTERS ISLAND – This is a group of 3 small islands above the Horseshoe Falls.  There are a few free parking spaces right by the short trail to walk out there.  Views include a lot of powerful rapids, and the brink of Horseshoe Falls.

LUNA ISLAND – This tiny island separates American Falls from Bridal Veil Falls, and is just a short walk from Goat Island.  You can get right next to both falls right at the brink (and imagine yourself going over in a barrel…)

The brink of American Falls as seen from Luna Island (Rainbow Bridge in background)

The brink of American Falls as seen from Luna Island (Rainbow Bridge in background)

AQUARIUM – Big C is super into sea life, so this was on our must-do list.  After having been there/done that, however, it may not be worth a stop if you don’t think your kids would be really into it.  The aquarium is very small, and to be honest, both kids’ favorite part was the outdoor seal exhibit that was in front of the building (and you don’t even have to pay to see that one!)

WHIRLPOOL STATE PARK – We checked this area out just before heading south for my cousin’s wedding.  If we ever go again, this is the area I’d like to spend more time at.  From the overlook, you can see the giant whirlpool created by the river as it takes a sharp turn.  This was all we had a chance to see, but there were trails that led right down to the river.  We saw people down there, and we were jealous of their perspective, but we didn’t have enough time (and to be honest, I wasn’t certain it was the safest option for water-loving Baby Zu, who was continually saying that she wanted to put her “feet in the wah-wah.”)

Horseshoe Falls in all it's glory!

Horseshoe Falls in all it’s glory!

For the most part, we felt like the amount of time we had was plenty to “do Niagara Falls.”  If you have more time, there are lots more commercial things (amusement parks, water parks, casinos, etc) to keep you entertained.  One word of advice if you have small kiddos – there is a LOT of walking.  We used our Bitybean carrier with Baby Zu and it worked out better than I think a stroller would have, since we didn’t have to worry about keeping track of an extra piece of equipment (and keeping it dry!)

After our visit to Niagara, we spent a great weekend with my family celebrating my cousin’s wedding…then we flew home, then the next day we headed to the beach for a week with the CragDaddy’s family!  Whew!  These past few weeks have been a whirlwind of fun, but it’s good to be back and settled into our summer routine.

All dressed up with a wedding to go to!

All dressed up with a wedding to go to!

 

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Spring Climbing Grand Finale…and Time for a Break!

If you’ve been hanging around this blog for a while, you may be aware that our family generally takes a break from climbing twice a year, during the “off season.”  I put that in quotes for the term off season because here in the Southeast, it’s actually pretty easy to climb year round, so long as you chase sun/shade effectively.  In fact, some of my best  climbing days have been on a sunny winter day, or a cool cloudy day in late summer.  But generally speaking, prime conditions for climbing on a rope tend to happen during spring and fall.  That means our off season breaks land around the holidays (which is nice because it’s always so hectic then anyway!), and during the throes of summer heat (when the only fun things to do outdoors involve water or the wee hours of the morning.)

Approaching the roof crux, Line of Fire 12c

Approaching the roof crux, Line of Fire 12c

When we first started doing this, it was hard to make ourselves take a complete break from climbing.  We miss the social aspect of weekend trips and mid-week training sessions.  It’s also hard to walk away from a project left undone.  But after doing this for several years, we’ve discovered that the physical and mental benefits far outweigh any temporary strength/endurance loss that occurred over the break.  Nagging soreness in elbows/fingers/shoulders subsides as we give climbing-specific muscles a chance to repair from any repetitive damage done during project season.  We get the chance to catch up on all those around the house projects that were either neglected or left in a various state of “undoneness” for the past few weeks (ie landscaping, deep cleaning, gutters, raking, etc.)

Some seasons are easier to walk away from than others.  It’s hard to stop climbing when you are climbing strong!   But it helps to keep in mind that taking a lot of strength into the summer months is often a waste of effort and skin down here in the humid South!  I’ve learned the hard way that it’s usually easier to just wait until the cooler temps of fall rather than battle it out in the heat!

On the other hand, sometimes even after a good season I find myself feeling a little burnt out, and welcome the break.  To be honest, after a frustratingly sub-par trip to the New River Gorge over Memorial Day, my psych level was pretty low and I was ready to take my focus elsewhere.  The CragDaddy, however, had absolutely crushed it that same weekend, and still had plenty of stoke for his sending fires.

I went into what we’d assumed would be our last spring trip of the season just looking forward to having a day with the CragDaddy sans kiddos.  However, I surprised myself and almost sent Line of Fire 12c.  Since CragDaddy was also close on his project (Tips Ahoy 12d), we opted for ONE MORE daytrip last weekend…and we BOTH sent!  It was the best (and most unexpected) way for us both to wrap up a season that involved loads of fun with family, friends, and even some personal bests for us both!

Our current fave way to celebrate a send - milkshakes after the kids go to bed!!!

Our current fave way to celebrate a send – milkshakes after the kids go to bed!!!

With all that said, it’ll probably be a few weeks until you see another trip report on here.  In just a couple of days, we’ll be heading up to New York for a combo wedding/Niagara Falls trip, then it’s off to the beach with family for a week!  After a couple of weeks completely off, we’ll probably get back into our gym routine, and may even plan a few low-key outdoor days here and there, but we probably won’t start bringing our “try hard” pants to the crag until end of August at the earliest!

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A Weekend Escape to the NC High Country

Although we’d had plans made for the past few weeks already, I was pretty pleased when I saw that our weekend getaway to the NC mountains aligned with Charlotte’s first (of what will hopefully not be TOO many) 100 degree days. This particular escape was one of my favorite types of trips – a hybrid family/climbing/hiking weekend that makes for all sorts of fun and variety.

Pulling the initial roof crux on Line of Fire 12c Photo creds: Justin Hedrick

Pulling the initial roof crux on Line of Fire 12c Photo creds: Justin Hedrick

After enjoying a gorgeous Grandfather Mountain view with our morning coffee, the CragDaddy and I headed up to the Linville Gorge for a “crag-date” at Hawksbill Mountain.  (Thank you to Bebe and Papa Joe for entertaining both kiddos!)  On his agenda was Tips Ahoy 12d, while I had my eyes on Line of Fire 12c.  A long term goal of mine is to systematically work my way through the 5.12 wall, and I’d saved Line of Fire for AFTER Tips Ahoy (more here on that send), because I knew it would push me out of my comfort zone a bit.  Even though grade-wise it’s a letter grade easier, both Line of Fire cruxes are bouldery and powerful – loooooong moves requiring some dynamic movement.  Bouldering and moving dynamically are things that I am decidedly NOT good at, so I envisioned having a harder time with this one.

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I’d gotten on it once before, the same day that I’d sent Tips Ahoy, and to be honest, was not optimistic that a send was gonna happen any time soon.  But my first run up went really well, and I had no trouble getting the draws in bolt to bolt.  My second go was SO close – I was clean all the way to the upper crux, when I came up just short of the glory jug 2 moves from the anchors.  And as it turns out, my second go was also my BEST go…I tried 2 more times, and each time I nailed the first crux, but then fell a few moves later.

Wish I would have sent, but to be honest, I’m just psyched it feels doable, because I thought some of the individual moves were going to give me a lot of trouble.  Plus, since CragDaddy didn’t send either, we now BOTH have an excuse to get back up there sooner rather than later!

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Next morning we drove back to the Linville area, this time with the whole family, and this time to visit the falls.  We started out hiking along the “tour de overlooks” on the rim of the gorge.  Beautiful, yes, but also a little crowded.  We then decided to check out the view along the bottom of the gorge.  This hike was longer and much more strenuous, but the view from the bottom was breathtaking.  A picnic lunch followed by a dip in the clear, cold mountain water made the extra effort worthwhile!

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By the time we got back to our car, we had two exhausted kiddos, the younger of which was growing crankier and more desperate for a nap by the minute.  We assumed she’d fall asleep on the way to our next stop, Linville Caverns, but she didn’t get that memo.  We next thought she’d crash in a babywearing nap as we toured the cave…wrong again.  After what seemed like hours (but was really 15 minutes) of constant wrangling and screaming, Baby Zu and I bowed out of our tour and hung out in a patch of shade while the rest of the family finished up.  I’d say the caverns were a bust….except that Big C loved EVERY minute of it!!!  He has not stopped talking about all the “cool things he saw underground.”

We wrapped up the evening with some live music back in Blowing Rock, and dinner at a family favorite – Mellow Mushroom.  We came down off the mountain with exhausted bodies but happy hearts.  When we pulled into the driveway, it felt great to be home; but then I stepped outside into the heat and humidity…summer is here folks!

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What We Love About Homeschooling

It’s only been 4 months, but already public school seems like a fading memory.  I can’t even express how much of a blessing homeschooling has been for our family so far.  The journey itself has not been perfect, but the fit for our family sure has been!  Gone are the days of morning battles getting out the door, and gone are the constant complaints about having to sit down all day and not being able to play outside.  No longer does the whole family live in fear of emotional meltdowns at the slightest mishap.

Thanks to homeschooling, we can make it up to the New River Gorge with time for a Friday evening hike to Long Point.

Thanks to homeschooling, we can make it up to the New River Gorge with time for a Friday evening hike to Long Point.

Instead, our days are filled with freedom, flexibility, fun…and a whole lot of learning, of course.  Here’s why:

We Learn WHEN We Want to Learn.

Believe it or not, our “formal schooling” time takes approximately 1 hour (which we do while Baby Zu sleeps.)  That includes a short lesson in each of the following – math, phonics, spelling, and reading (mostly me reading to him, and a little bit of vice versa.)  Additionally, we also have some family read aloud time most mornings after breakfast.  Teaching in a one on one format just doesn’t take that long!  The rest of our day is filled with learning from “real life” – errands, playdates, outdoor adventures, arts and crafts, gardening, neighborhood walks, etc.  Since there’s really very little that we actually “have” to do on a daily basis, spontaneous opportunities for fun and adventure are always welcome.  For example, Monday mornings after a weekend climbing trip can always start off slow.  Spelling words can be done in the car, so that we have more time to play in the afternoon.  In fact, just about any of our lessons can be taken “on the road,” which makes leaving town for weekend adventures a piece of cake.  And, since our plan is to school year round, taking off random days (or weeks) here and there is not a problem.

We Learn HOW We Want to Learn.

Learning doesn’t have to take place only within the confines of a desk in a room. We can do our novel study snuggled together in a hammock in the front yard.  When it’s Big C’s turn to read aloud to me, he can do so lying upside down on the couch. Our ocean unit culminated in a trip to the grandparent’s beach house, where we experienced the ecology of tidal pools better than any textbook ever could have explained.  We are currently studying pond life as our science, which means we have an aquarium of tadpoles and frog spawn in our kitchen, gathered on a morning nature walk.

Exploring tide pools at "Bebe's Beach House"

Exploring tide pools at “Bebe’s Beach House”

We Learn WHAT We Want To Learn.

Big C is a certified shark expert.  He has devoured just about every shark book in our local library in a matter of weeks.  We’ve bounced around with units on outer space, volcanoes, tornadoes, oceans, butterflies, birds, snakes, etc.  Whatever he is interested in, I take it and run with it.  The result is a kid who is so enthusiastic about learning, my former teacher’s heart is about to burst.  Additionally, I can add in subjects that our family feels are important that he wouldn’t normally get in public school (ie, Bible.)

We Learn Why We Learn.

Don’t underestimate the power of this one.  The homeschooling format leaves so much more room for “real life.”  Pretty much every subject we do has an obvious “why this is important” application to it.  We count money and play “store” together with our toy cash register…then do the real thing when we go buy groceries.  Thank you notes and get well cards to family and friends gives handwriting practice a purpose.  And the slower pace of our day allows for so many more in depth conversations about “why” (which, if your child is anything like mine, is a subject they rarely grow weary of!)

Our "kitchen pond."

Our “kitchen pond.”

We All Learn Together.

This one has been the biggest shock for me.  Not because I think I’m super smart and have nothing more to learn in life.  I’d just (wrongly) assumed that the bulk of information I relayed to him would be information that I already knew.  But while I did in fact know how to read, write, and do math prior to homeschooling…I had no idea that weird bug on my echinacea plants was a soldier beetle.  And I had never seen a blue grosbeak until we got really consistent with our feeders during a bird study.  And you know what else?  While it might sound crazy, I think my mental math skills have even improved!

I’m not the only one benefiting from our new learning lifestyle – Baby Zu is thrilled to have big brother at home!  She soaks up what we do like a sponge…sometimes. Other times, she soaks herself at the water table while we read about frogs.  But regardless, both kids enjoy being together more often than not, and I’m optimistic that these early years together will lay a foundation for good sibling relationships in the future.

Shark week came in March for us, in coordination with Big Cs 6th birthday!

Shark week came in March for us, in coordination with Big Cs 6th birthday!

My previous life (aka before kids) was as a classroom teacher and I loved it.  The pay sucked, the hours were long, and the job was often thankless when measured in tangible things…but watching that “light bulb” go on in a little person’s head was so rewarding!  Now, as a parent teaching my children at home, those intangible rewards are exponentially higher.  Because this is MY kid.  No one loves him like I do.  No one knows him better than I do.  And no one else is more proud of him when he succeeds.  Indeed, homeschooling is not for everyone.  But at 4 months and counting, it is most certainly for us!

 

 

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Hawksbill Round 2: A New Personal Best!

Though my spring climbing season got off to a slow-ish start, these last few weeks have been unseasonably cool, and have allowed me to string together some hard (for me!) sends.  Since the CragDaddy had spent most of the previous week in NY on business, our family opted for the day trip this past weekend.  After accumulating some sending momentum at the Red the week before,I was psyched and ready to try hard on my project at Hawksbill Mountain.

Eyeing down the mail slot to clip the next bolt from. Photo: Joe Virtanen

Eyeing down the mail slot to clip the next bolt from. Photo: Joe Virtanen

I wrote about Tips Ahoy 12d a couple of weeks ago , when I hopped on it while a friend of mine was working it.  I’d given it 3 burns, and was pleasantly surprised at how doable it seemed.  It plays to my strengths (technical climbing on tiny holds), without featuring any of my glaring weaknesses (of which there are many, but the usual culprits involve slopers and big moves on steep rock!)  Anyway, going in I was cautiously optimistic about my chances.   In contrast to the 100 foot monsters I’d been battling at the Red, this line was only about 60 feet tall, which (hopefully) would mean that endurance wouldn’t be a problem.  Additionally, the weather could not have been any more perfect – temps were in the upper 40’s/low 50’s most of the day (yes 40’s at the end of May!), and the wall wouldn’t even see the sun until some time after lunch.

Crimping hard on one of the few holds big enough to match on the entire route.

Crimping hard on one of the few holds big enough to match on the entire route.

For me, the crux boils down to two moves – a precision stab to a pointy crimp off of two tiny razor blades, then a foot shuffle and long lock off to another pointy crimp.  There’s also a clip that needs to happen at some point from either one of the pointy crimps.  In isolation, the first move is substantially harder than the second move.  But for whatever reason, going into the second move directly after completing the first move feels darn near impossible.  In fact, I don’t think I’d ever successfully made both moves without falling between.  Such. A. Long. Lockoff.  Control is the key here, as moving dynamically to either hold will result in shredded fingertips pretty quickly…but practicing the moves over and over and over and over again to gain the muscle memory is a gamble with the skin as well.

After a quick warm-up a little further down the wall, I took a lap to get the draws hung on Tips Ahoy.  When I touched the two razor blades, I knew it was going to be a good day.  Not only did the holds feel crisp, but my fingers felt a lot stronger!  (thanks, 4×4’s!)  My confidence grew, and I finished the route bolt-to-bolt without much issue.

Funny how the whole wall looks completely devoid of holds...but theyre there! They arent big, but theyre there!

Funny how the whole wall looks completely devoid of holds…but theyre there! They arent big, but theyre there!

My next go was a send that happened so fast it was almost a blur!  The first few bolts went off without a hitch.  I made the first move of the crux, shuffled my feet around, and made the next move for the first time ever in succession.  I almost punted off initiating the traverse, but managed to stay on, then almost biffed AGAIN a few moves later, but once again, still on.  At this point my fingers were so cold that they were completely numb, but there are exactly zero holds big enough for anything to stop and shake out on, so all I could do was keep climbing, and trust my muscle memory on the last 5.11 crimp ladder.  Before I knew it I had clipped the chains and was back on the ground.  Tips Ahoy = DONE!  Woo-hoo!!!

And with that, it looks like spring climbing season has drawn to a close.  This weekend’s forecast is definitely of the summer variety, which means a lot more sweat and a lot less sending!  (But hopefully just as much fun!)

 

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