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

CragKid on the Sharp End!!!

Shaking out in the kneebar rest of Massive Stargazing 12b

Despite the rocky start to our climbing year, our family has been trying hard to make up for lost time the past few weekends, and it’s been refreshingly awesome. Typically by this point of the year we are tired of melting off the rock and ready to exchange our climbing gear for paddleboards and kayaks. But after all the spring clovid closures, we have been far less picky with conditions than we usually are by mid-June! Not to mention, the weather has been seasonably tolerable, especially up at Hidden Valley, which is where we’ve spent the past couple of weekends. (Looking to check it out and want beta? Check out this series of posts.)

Two weekends ago the whole family was able to get lots of mileage on some old favorites as well as new to us sends, and this past weekend CragDaddy and I not only ticked our first post-quarantine 5.12s, but also unlocked a new Crag Parent achievement – our 10 year old is officially on the sharp end!!!!

For those of you not familiar with climbing lingo, the “sharp end” refers to lead climbing, which involves bringing the rope up from the bottom and securing to various anchor points along the way. This is different from top-roping, which is what most people think of when they picture a birthday party at a climbing gym – the rope is already hanging from an anchor at the top, and as the climber ascends, the belayer takes up the slack, holding the climber in mid-air in the event the climber falls. In lead climbing, the belayer both takes up and feeds out slack, depending on what the climber needs. A fall while lead climbing has the potential to be much more significant, as many times the last secured anchor point is below the climber, rather than always at the top as it is in top-roping.

About to take off on “Where’s the Beef?” 5.6

Because lead climbing puts a lot more safety responsibility on the climber rather than almost solely the belayer, the decision to do it is not something to be taken lightly. CragDad and I had been on the fence for a while about it with regards to Big C, and had decided a few weeks ago that if he expressed an interest to learn, we would start teaching him…but that we would wait until he brought it up. Fast forward to Saturday when 10 year old Big C watched 13 year old Myles Kish from Greenville, SC work his 13a project out the roof of the Planetarium at Hidden Valley. Apparently seeing someone close to his own age climbing “like the grown-ups” was all the inspiration he needed.

The next day it was all he could talk about. So we decided to take him to an out of the way spot for a Lead Climbing 101 tutorial. We talked about clipping, rope management, the physics of falling, and practiced scenarios on the ground. Then we had him do a “mock lead” on It’s Schwinging 5.6. (Mock leading is where the climber is tied into both a top-rope as well as a lead rope, allowing the climber to practice the components of lead climbing while still on a top rope belay.) He crushed it, and was ready for the real thing…but this particular route had bolts a little farther apart than CragDad or I wanted for his first lead. The route next to it (“Where’s the Beef?”) was the same grade, but slightly steeper with bigger holds, as well as a couple more bolts, all of which meant much safer fall potentials.

Making sure he’s not back-clipped!

He said he was “nervous but excited” as he tied in, which in my opinion was a good thing. I wouldn’t want him to be terrified, but a little bit of nerves shows me he comprehends the added risk, at least as far as a 10 year old is capable of comprehending it.

His first lead went great. He did better than most adults I’ve seen on their first lead. After he got down, his first comment was, “Leading is really fun!!!” This immediately brought to mind the memory of myself on my first lead, Jim Dandy 5.5 at Table Rock, where I clearly remember saying, “If this is what lead climbing feels like, I don’t want any part of it!” (Turns out my first “sport” lead was actually a mixed route and that 25 feet between bolts was not the norm. When ya know better, ya do better 😉 )

His first lead experience was so positive, in fact, that he was chomping at the bit to do another one. After much debate, we settled on Snake Crack 5.9+, a short well-bolted route he had just top-roped the week before. The crux is under the first bolt (which we obviously stick-clipped), and the rest of the climbing is substantially easier. My concern with this one was that some of the clips he would have to make one-handed, as opposed to the awesome hands-free stances he had encountered on “Where’s the Beef?” But he practiced one-handed clipping on the ground the entire time the grown-ups were taking their turns, and by the time his turn came up again he seemed ready. And once again, he crushed it!

All smiles a top Snake Crack 5.9+

As a Cragmama, I couldn’t be prouder of him. As a mom, I think I aged 5 years watching him, especially on the second one, even though he did everything right. Watching your child on the sharp end is nerve-wracking, to say the least. But he has shown every sign I could ask for of his being ready for this, and I am so excited about where this new achievement will take him!

To the parents out there reading this – how old was your child when you first started letting them take some personal risks in their adventures? I’d love to hear stories!


Melrose Mountain Climbing

One of our family’s first forays into post-quarantine climbing was Melrose Mountain, a small cliffline just outside of Tryon, NC. If you’ve never heard of this area, it’s probably because public access was just negotiated with the town of Tryon in 2019, courtesy of the Carolina Climber’s Coalition and Blue Ridge Mountain Guides.

Big C lookin’ and Feelin’ Good 5.10a

Coming straight out of all the closures and having not climbed outside in months, a grade range of mostly 5.10 and under seemed like a good fit. And as a relatively unknown climbing spot, we felt pretty good about avoiding crowds. The weekend we went was hot. There’s not a very big elevation advantage at Melrose, and temps were approaching 90 with jungle-like humidity. However, we were pleasantly surprised at how bearable conditions were! The cliff faces west, so the sun didn’t hit the wall until after lunch, and even then it was just the upper faces, as the bottom remained heavily shaded all day due to heavy tree cover.

I was also pleasantly surprised at how much variety there was at such a small area. Several nice slab lines, a couple of funky aretes and technical faces, and even some really steep routes, including the steepest 10a that I’ve ever seen – Feelin’ Good. (It’s super fun, go do it!)

Things to keep in mind if you go…

Little Z working up See Line Woman 5.8
  • As a newly developed area, especially with a steep approach trail directly above the cliffs, there is a higher than average chance of loose rock. We “helmetted” our entire family for the majority of the day, whether we were actively climbing, belaying, or just sitting at the base of the cliff.
  • Print out the info from the CCC website before you go. That plus the Melrose Mountain section on Mountain Project should get you where you need to be without too much trouble.

  • Unless you’re feeling super adventurous, stick to the Western Cliffs (see map.) Both trail and routes are much cleaner/more trafficked.
  • Don’t leave home without bug spray. We all fought off lots of mosquitoes, and my son dealt with horribly itchy chigger bites for days afterwards.
Gettin’ rid of our Cabin Fever 5.10

Is Melrose Mountain a place our family will go to week after week? Probably not. One day was plenty of time to dispatch most of the better looking lines. But my kids loved everything about it (except the constant hemlet enforcement…) My 6 year old climbed higher than I’ve ever seen her climb outdoors on See Line Woman 5.8, and my 10 year old got put all of his treadwall practice to use on Feelin’ Good 5.10a. So while it probably won’t make it into the regular rotation amidst all the other amazing climbing destinations the Southeast has to offer, Melrose Mountain will definitely be worth a return visit at some point down the road!

Has anyone else been climbing off the beaten path lately? How have your family adventures adjusted to the craziness of this summer?


Quarantine Reads for the Whole Family

As I sat down to write my first “quarantine” blog post, I happened to glance back at my most recent blog post prior to this one – all about the climbing goals I had for this year, 2020.  I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  So much for that.  Anyway, I haven’t written anything up until now because, to be honest, I just couldn’t summon the motivation to.  But over the past few weeks, I’ve stumbled upon a couple of good books for climbing families that I think are worth sharing sooner rather than later.

The first book I’d like to share is a great choice for families that are curious about climbing, as well as families who are already familiar with the sport and ready to get their kids involved.  Created by veteran climber Olivier Roberge as a way to share the psych with his kiddos, “Tom and Katie’s Climbing Adventures” introduces the basics of several climbing disciplines (gym, sport, bouldering, trad) in an interesting narrative with fun, comic-style graphics.

My first impression was that not only was there a LOT of great logistical information packed into the 75 pages of this book, but that Roberge presented the info in a very kid-friendly, easy to understand way.  The illustrations are very well thought out, and the added visual really helped demonstrate the various concepts being discussed (ie, lead climbing, multi-pitch, etc.)   Both my 10yo and 6yo have enjoyed it immensely, and we’ve read it together countless times over this quarantine time!  I’d say kids as young as 3 or 4 could enjoy it as a readaloud.  As far as independent reading goes, I’d say maybe 3rd grade and up?  It’s the perfect book for a long car ride to the crag, as the graphic novel style picture/text combo lends itself really well to flipping through over and over again, for both older kids as well as non-reader aged kids.

Full disclosure, there was one little thing that came up in our family’s discussion that wasn’t really a big deal, but seems worth mentioning.  There was a situation in the story where one character, Tom, didn’t want to rope up in the gym because he was afraid of heights.  The other character, Katie, ended up “tricking him” onto the wall by pretending that her knot had come undone mid-way up the wall, knowing that Tom would put his fear aside and come to her rescue.  This in turn, made him realize that he actually had nothing to fear the entire time.  (All while the belaying parents winked at each other, apparently being “in” on this plan.)  The chapter closes with Katie basically feeling slightly guilty for tricking her friend, but with an “end justifies to means” sort of attitude overall, since Tom was able to overcome his fear.

While fear is a common emotion in both beginner and veteran climbers, I personally feel like this scenario could have been dealt with in a much better way.  My family loves to joke around just as much as any, however we don’t play around when it comes to safety checks.  A misunderstood joke about knots/belaying/etc could easily lead to someone getting seriously injured or worse.  The good news is that this led to a really good family discussion about the story, as well as some brainstorming about better ways Katie could have encouraged her friend to get out of his comfort zone.  In fact, I’m almost glad it’s in there because I think it’s actually reinforced our family’s understanding on an issue that wouldn’t normally come up in conversation a lot, as my 6yo now wants to discuss the inappropriateness of safety jokes EVERY. SINGLE. TIME we read it lol!

Bottom line, “Tom and Katie’s Climbing Adventures” is a great resource to add to your family’s adventure story collection.  And guess what – I’ve got a great deal to offer you!  Author Olivier Roberge has been kind enough to offer free shipping for all Cragmama readers!  You can use the above link and enter promo code CRAGMAMA when prompted, or simply go here where the discount should already be applied for you.

Additionally, Ashima Shiraishi, one of our family’s favorite young climbing phenom’s, has also written a book!  It’s called “How to Solve a Problem”, and while it’s definitely far less technical and meaty than Tom and Katie’s Climbing Adventures, it’s also worth adding to your library, especially for those with younger readers.  The writing is very descriptive, the illustrations are engaging, and it’s great to see a picture book that features climbing!

And adults, I haven’t forgotten about you!  Kris Hampton of the Power Climbing Company has also just released a book – “The Hard Truth – Simple Ways to Become a Better Climber.”  Right now it’s available for pre-orders via his website, and it will be widely available online on 5/14.  (I wonder if that date was intentional 😉 ).  More full disclosure, I’m still waiting to receive my copy, so I can’t promise it’s not junk.  But as someone who has listened to Kris’s podcast for years as well as actually paid him money for customized training sessions in the past, I can ALMOST guarantee it will be a winner!

So with that said, go use some of your stimulus check to support some climbers’ non-climbing endeavors!  And please let me know if you have any other suggestion for a quaran-reading list.  Until then, stay safe and I’ll see you all post lockdown!


2020 Vision

2020 Vision…did you catch my pun?  😉  A little dad joke-ish, but I thought it was fun.  Eyesight jokes aside, however, it’s time for a list of climbing goals for the new year! As always, these goals are subject to change as the rest of the year unfolds.  But looking ahead, this is what I’m aiming for in 2020.

Line of Fire 12c, one of the more popular routes on the Hawsbill 12 wall (Photo Justin Hedrick)

FINISH THE 12 WALL AT HAWKSBILL:  There are 3 routes left unsent for me on the 5.12 wall at Middle Hawksbill, and I would love to finish out the wall.  The first one, Manifest Destiny 12b, is  the only one of these unsent three that I’ve actually been on before.  Though on paper it’s the easiest one on the wall, my previous attempt did not go well.  However, that was almost 4 years ago, and my power and core strength have improved dramatically since then, so I’m hopefully optimistic this time around.  The second one is Appalachian Spring 12c, a mixed route that looks like my favorite style of climbing – slightly overhanging crimps.  The final one will likely be the hardest – Triple Bypass 13a.  Never been on it, and don’t know anyone that has, but I guess there’s one way to find out about it!

STEALTH AND MAGIC 12d – I put 2 solid days in on this sucker last fall, and just when I felt pretty close, weather and holiday travel shut me down.  Looking forward to hopping back on this come spring!

HIT 100 LIFETIME 5.12’s – As it stands right now, I’ve sent 93 5.12’s in the course of my journey as a climber. It breaks down like this (not counting repeats, and rounding a handfull of “slashy” grades up or down accordingly):

12a – 56
12b – 25
12c – 9
12d – 6

I’m hoping that in 2020 I will hit the century mark with 100 5.12 sends!  While this goal isn’t really letter specific, ideally I would love to get those upper 12 numbers both in double digits while I’m at it!

TEN SLEEP 5.13? – We are headed back this summer – and this time we’re driiiiiiiiiiving!!!!!  Well, 75% of us are.  CragDaddy doesn’t have the PTO to make a long drive worth the trip, so to maximize our time, the kids and I are setting out several days early and making our way to Wyoming, where we’ll pick up our favorite partner in climb up at the Casper airport and keep right on rolling in to Ten Sleep.  My goal at Ten Sleep always tends to be more star-chasing than number-chasing, but at this point I’ve done most of the classics in my onsight range, so I’d love to pick something harder and invest several days on it this time around and see how it goes.  On a side note – we’ll be stopping in Nashville, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Denver – anybody wanna meet up and show us a good time?!?

Ten Sleep Round 4 – ETA August!!!

The Enneagram 1 in me would love to see those goals at 5 rather than 4 just because it looks better that way…but I think these 4 will keep me busy enough this year, so I’d better stop here!  I would love to hear what everyone else is hoping to accomplish this year though.  Please comment below and we can cheer each other on!


2019 Year in Review

Here Comes the Rain 12b, Photo by Bryan Miller

As I sat down to write out my climbing goals for 2020, I realized that despite a lot of personal reflection on my 2019 accomplishments, I never really summed things up on the blog, particularly when it came to projects from this past fall.  Even though I stopped writing here long about the time the weather got good, I actually got out a lot this fall, so there’s lots to catch up on!

One of my main goals for this year was to establish a firmer grip in the 12+ arena, particularly at the New.  Aside from the stray 13 that very much catered to my preferred style, my previous NRG sends up until this year had a definitive ceiling at the 12b mark.  This year I was able to break that barrier at the New, with two 12c sends and one 12d.  I also came pretty close on another 12d before weather and holidays forced a retreat until spring.  While maybe not completely consolidated at NRG 12+ just yet, I definitely feel like I have a little momentum in the right direction, and I’m psyched to bring some newfound confidence into some of the harder NRG classics in 2020.

Wall Drug 12c

A more general goal of mine for 2019 was to shop around for some harder projects – ie something that might take more than a few days worth of investment.  I enjoy picking one route and sticking to it for a day or two, but then I tend to assume it’s out of my pay grade and move on if I still can’t do all the moves after a weekend’s worth of work.  After looking back over the course of 2019, once again I’m not sure I can say I crushed this goal by any means, but I certainly put myself in positions where I could BE crushed way more than I’m accustomed to!  The result of that was that I have a small handful of projects that very well could be in the long term hopper for next year, the most likely candidates being those on local rock – Black and Blue Velvet (Pilot Mountain) and Pigs in Zen (The Dump), both 13a.

Something cool that just sort of happened without being a pre-meditated goal was that I placed more gear this fall than I had in a good long while.  This is entirely due to my 9 year old turning into a legit climber seemingly overnight.  Many times the best routes grade-wise for him that were also near our projects also happened to be gear lines.  While I’m not ready to set any specific trad goals for 2020, I wouldn’t mind seeing this back-into-trad trend continue!

As far as number specific goals, I didn’t really have many specifics in mind for this year, although midway through the fall I realized I was close to an “Around the Horn 5.12 Trifecta.” Despite a lot of concentrated effort in November, I ended up being just ONE route short of sending 3 of each, 12a through 12d, over the course of the year.  Here’s how that broke down.

Starry 12a (The Meadow)
Captain Fuk 12a (Hidden Valley)
Team Machine 12a (New River Gorge)
Blackbeard 12b (Hidden Valley)
Arrowhead Arete 12b (Hidden Valley)
Here Comes the Rain 12b (The Dump)
Green Envy 12c (New River Gorge)
Wall Drug 12c (New River Gorge)
Not Too Keen 12c/d (The Dump)
Bosnian Vacation 12d (New River Gorge)
Tweakend 12d (Hawksbill Mt.)

If I just look on paper at the 8a scores, this past year was at best par with the last several years, at worst, 200 points lower than other years.  Because we focused on staying in project mode most of the year, we tended towards areas we new well, which decreased my onsight opportunities dramatically.  Also there are no 13’s, despite ticking 2 back at the tail end of 2017.

Cruxin’ out on Bosnian Vacation 12d

But when I looked back at my climbing log, I saw that my overall sends from 2019 were actually a good bit higher than in 2018 – 70 versus 55!  So despite the fact that this year was dubbed more of a “quality OVER quantity” sort of year, I’m also psyched about the “QUANTITY of quality” projects I was able to put down!  While I would like to give training hard in the gym all the credit, I think just as much of it boiled down to putting consistent time in at the same crags, and not being afraid to get on something hard and stick with it.

Now that I’ve thoroughly dissected 2019 for me, I’d love to hear from you – don’t be afraid to spray!  What did you accomplish – climbing or otherwise – during 2019?  Be on the lookout for a 2020 vision post next week!