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

Hidden Valley Sendage

Lately the Southeast has felt more like “June-tober” than “Rock-tober,” much to the chagrin of every climber that I know.  What’s up with this?!?  This is supposed to be our prime time, with conditions cool and crisp…but instead we all feel like gorillas in the mist.  That said, we knew that the elevation at Hidden Valley would make for cool(er) temps than the surrounding areas, and considering we’ve spent the past four weekends at the New, we figured we could use a change of pace.  And it turned out to be awesome!

“I’m off!” Photo: Jaron Moss

Our plan for Day 1 was for CragDaddy to get a little bit of revenge on Blues Brothers 12a, a route that should’ve gone for him back in August, when he got some awesome photos thanks to Bryan Miller at Fixed Line Media, but unfortunately no send.  However, worthy lines are always worth coming back too, so I was happy to oblige CragDaddy, especially since I was interested in a route that shared the same starting crack – Coneheads #2 12c.  I didn’t really expect 12c to go for me in just one day, so when CragDaddy also walked away empty handed after the first day, it was pretty easy for us to talk ourselves into another Round at the Saturday Night Live wall for Day 2.  And guess what – we both sent!  CragDaddy on his very first attempt of the day (even hanging draws!), and me on my 3rd and final attempt of the day.  

Dinner with these three goofballs back at camp.

This send meant a lot more to me than most – while not my first of the grade, it’s been almost a year and a half since I’ve sent 12c.  And as I look back at the (small) handful of 12c ticks to my name, I think this one is on the harder end of that spectrum.  

I was interested in Coneheads for a couple of reasons.  First of all, thanks to Blues Brothers I knew I could do the start.  Secondly, I knew a female friend of mine was working it, and I’m always more inspired to get on stuff other ladies are doing.  Part of it is a girl power comraderie thing.  It’s also encouraging to know that a route goes for someone that doesn’t have a 7 foot wingspan…

Anyway, Coneheads is an awesome line, and it taught me a lot about the process of redpointing.  The line boasts a little bit of everything – a technical crack with a little bit of burl to it, a weird block move, some juggy overhang, some powerful, bouldery overhang, and a loooooong, exciting crux sequence to the chains on some of the funkiest crimp features I’ve ever seen.  Seriously, one of the key holds was a “thumbercling” using a quartz crystal that looked just like a cigarette had been glued to the wall.  

Enjoying the jugs while I can…

After my first burn I felt so trashed (even on toprope!) that I almost took it down.  Thanks to the encouragement of my crew, I pulled the rope and gave it another go, this time on the sharp end.  I have found that many times the most accurate gauge of “how close” you are on a route comes from the second go, as opposed to the first.  On the first burn, advantage always goes to the rock, because the climber is more or less coming in blind.  But on the second attempt, the playing field is a little more level, and you can get a better assessment of how you stack up against the rock now that you know what to expect – what the moves are like, what the falls are like, where the crux is, where the rests are, what the clipping stances are like, etc.  By the end of the day, I was delighted to have this route down to a two-hang, and to be able to link the entire 10 move crux sequence after a hang.  

On every subsequent burn until the send go (so attempts 2-5), I made subtle but significant changes to my beta to make it flow more efficiently.  The final move of the crux became much more doable while carrying a pump with the addition of 2 intermediate holds.  The bouldery, overhanging section just before the crux was made more efficient by using a different hand hold, and refining EXACTLY where my feet needed to be.  I was able to find two “not good, but hopefully good enough” rest stances that allowed me to lower my heart rate a bit and get a brief shake out.  And of course, taking a LOT of big whippers working the runout crux got rid of the fear factor, which allowed me to fully commit without hesitation when the time finally came.  

Same route, different day. CragDaddy on Blues Brothers, fabulous photo by Bryan Miller of Fixed Line Media

And amazingly enough, “that time” came on the last burn of the weekend.  I was feeling tired, but after attempt number 5 was a solid one hang, I knew I owed it to myself to try one more time.  Even though the crux lasts pretty much until you reach the chains, the hardest move for me always seemed to be the second hand move of the sequence, bumping my left hand from a sloping crimp to a shallow, and dismally sharp, quartz rail.  I had a feeling that if I could just stick that move, I’d have a good shot at a send.  

Not a bad view back at camp…

On my sending burn, I focused really hard on resting the correct amount of time (rush, and you don’t get enough back, linger too long, and you start getting pumped again!), and on making my footwork absolutely perfect setting up for the move that kept spitting me off.  I pasted my foot on the wall, hit the sloping crimp, looked down to hop my right foot up an inch higher…and made the bump successfully!  The rest of the sequence I was on auto-pilot and before I knew it, I was clipping chains on what is probably going to end up being the highlight of my fall season!  

I’d love to hear from everyone else – how’s your fall tick list coming?  For those of you in the Southeast, it looks like we might FINALLY be getting the good stuff from the weatherman soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This Time it’s Endless, Not Sendless…

CragDaddy reaching tall on Gift of Grace 12b Photo: Michael Johnston

Ah, Endless Wall season.  There’s nothing like it.  Endless Wall is definitely my favorite climbing area at the New River Gorge, though on paper I’m not sure why.  From a climber perspective, the grades are stiff, the bolt spacing is spicy, and cruxes require committment from body, mind and soul all at once.  You’d better bring your try hard if you wanna climb here.  From a mama perspective, the hike is long, and giant ladders make for a difficult approach with kids.  You’d better bring your hiking bears if you wanna climb here.

As a family, it’s logistically always been hard for us to get down there as often as we’d like.  It’s not the best place for larger groups, so if we’ve got a large crew, other areas make a lot more sense.  I can think of countless times we’ve had to put projects on hold simply because we couldn’t convince anyone to hike down there with us.  Then there’s the weather conundrum – most of the wall bakes in the sun, so late fall and early spring are really best…when camping can get pretty darn cold for the kiddos.  

All that said, we were pretty psyched to see high’s in the low 60’s on the heels of our flying solo experiment from the week before.  It seemed like the perfect time to go for The Gift of Grace 12b, which would be warmed by the morning sun, but shaded by lunch time.  This proud line follows a striking arete to the top of the cliff and some of the best views of the gorge.  It’s got an intimidating reputation due to some nasty fall potential down low that can be mitigated with a long draw, so we tied in with stick clip at the ready.  CragDaddy stick clipped his way up most the route for his first attempt, and then I toproped.  We extended the draw on the 3rd bolt…I mean REALLY extended it, so that one could clip at a good stance before attempting the first crux.  (A fall during these moves without the extension would risk slamming into the lip of a low roof, your belayer, a slab boulder, or some combination of the three.)  Clipping the extendo-draw takes the risk of any of those scenarios down to pretty much zero…it seemed like a no brainer to us.  

Little Z embarking on a family rite of passage

Once we took care of the scary business, we could start working the route on the sharp end and focus on the moves…which were all HARD!  The climb starts with a burly lip traverse along the roof, to a series of long moves on incut crimps.  The first crux (the one that we neutered the fear factor on) is a very cool sequence on the arete, followed by a well-deserved no hands rest.  A few more crimpy moves, this time on bad feet, leads to another good rest on a blocky section of the arete.  Next comes the redpoint crux – a thin, balancy sequence of crimpy sidepulls culminating with a long move to better holds, with a tenuous clip thrown in the middle for good measure.  The rest of the climbing is probably no harder than 10+, with just enough shake out jugs to make the finish a probable, though not guaranteed, victory lap.  

By the end of the day, CragDaddy and I’d gotten in 3 burns each, both with a last go best go 2 hang.  We hiked out optimistic for a next day send.  However, our family highlight came at the end of the day, watching Little Z join the ranks of those that have scaled the big Honeymooner Ladders of Central Endless.  She was belayed from above by Daddy, and I climbed right below her to spot her if she slipped…and to tell her to slow down every 3 rungs so that Daddy had enough time to pull the rope up.  Surprisingly, the only other person who was more proud of her than herself was her big brother!  He gave her a huge hug at the top, and told her over and over what a good job she did on the hike out.  <3

2 ladders down, 1 to go!

Next day we found ourselves back at Gift of Grace bright and early, and since most everything else was still cold and in the shade, we opted to get down to business straightaway.  Steve still had some beta refining he wanted to do, so he volunteered to hang draws, er, haul the stick clip up.  I wasn’t entirely sure whether I was going to go for it or not on my first burn of the day, but by the time I got through the first crux and made it to the rest I was in send mode.  The next few moves went well, and the upper crux felt the best it’d ever felt.  I was carrying a little more pump than I wanted at the finish, but before I knew it, I was at the chains and taking in that New River Gorgeous view.  After somewhat mediocre performances the past couple of NRG trips, I needed this one, and I must say it felt pretty grand! 

Entering the “bad feet” section. Photo: Michael Johnston

CragDaddy sent in fine style just after lunch, then we hiked over to put up Totally Clips 5.8 for Big C, who was able to do all the moves but the crux, which is pretty reachy when you’re only 4 feet tall.  CragDaddy and our buddy Mike took advantage of having an 80m rope at the ready and climbed Fool Effect 5.9, and I ended my day on Slab-o-Meat 11d, a line I’d never even looked at before but turned out to be really nice (and FYI a great one if you’re breaking into the grade – the hard moves are all between bolts 1 and 3, followed by another 75 feet of fun (and exciting) 5.10 slabbing.  

This coming weekend will mark week number 4 in a row at the New, but this time we will be living the high life in a cabin with CragDaddy’s parents.  Hopefully the weather will be cooperative…but if not, at least we know we won’t be sleeping outside in the rain!  

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A Weekend of Firsts at the New River Gorge

This weekend was our second on

Locking off down low on Preparation H 12a (photo from previous week)

e in a row spent at the New River Gorge, and it represented a game-changing milestone for our family – WE WENT BY OURSELVES.  Just us – mom, dad, and two kids.  To those not familiar with the logistical nightmare that comes with climbing with kids and might not see this as a big deal, let me break it down for you.  It has been 7 and a half YEARS since we have been able to climb without having to nail down any logistics with other people…

Of those 7+ years, the first 3/3.5 were spent needing help with Kid #1.  By the time we would have felt confident to go out on our own as a family of 3, I was pregnant with Kid #2, and didn’t feel comfortable catching lead falls anymore, so we needed an extra person to belay for CragDaddy.  Then Kid #2 enters the scene, and we’re back at square one, this time with an additional 4 year old in tow.  A handful of times we’ve been able to snag a grandparent or two to watch our kids so that CragDaddy and I can have a climbing date.  Even less than that are the days that one of us goes, and the other stays home with the kids.  But we’ve always had a sort of “all for one, and one for all” mentality, so 99% of the time, that means we’ve had to rely (sometimes heavily) on other people.  

Thankfully, we are part of an amazing climbing community that miraculously doesn’t seem to mind if our family circus tags along.  I can probably count on both hands the number of times these past 7+ years we have found ourselves stuck at home on a gorgeous weekend due to lack of climbing partners.  But the logistics of securing extra partners can be pretty stressful, especially if one of our “go-to’s” is unavailable.  Many Thursday nights have been spent frantically combing over our contact lists, trying to connect last minute with someone else because the partner we thought we had fell through for one reason or another.  

These guys are the best.

We’d been toying with the idea of flying solo for the past month now.  We’d tested the waters of not having an “official” kid watcher a few times recently when we’ve found ourselves at the crag with an even number of adults.  The kids did great, so we decided to go for it, with no agenda for the weekend but to experiment and have fun (well…and if I’m being honest, I really wanted revenge on Preparation H from the previous weekend.)  And you know what – the logistics went better than we ever could have imagined they would have!  We actually got just as much, if not MORE, climbing in than on a typical day, AND we got to spend more quality time as a family throughout the day.  It was actually only a little short of miraculous, to be honest!  

Little Zu sending…sort of. 🙂

To be fair, we set them up for success the best we could.  We chose areas that were 1) Not likely to be crowded, 2) Kid-friendly at the base of the cliff (flat, open, with no dropoffs or water hazards), and 3) Areas the kids have been to before and enjoyed being at.  We also brought in a few more toys/activities, which was easy to do since this was also the first weekend I hiked in with a normal backpack, rather than a kid carrier, so we had more room.  (ANOTHER FIRST!)  

Once we got down there we set up a nice little kid spot, with toys/food/water freely available, and waited til they were settled in on a morning snack.  I warmed up on Rico Suave 10a, everything was fine.  CragDaddy did too, still great.  We spent some time with the kids.  Then I hopped on Preparation H 12a.  I sent hanging draws (!) and the kids were awesome –  totally engrossed in their world of trolls, legos, and coloring.  (And eating.  Always lots of eating.)  CragDaddy took a run up, no send, then pulled the rope.  We all hung out for a bit, ate lunch together, then CragDaddy took another turn and sent.  Boom.  It was lunchtime on Day 1 and my only climbing goal for the weekend was already done!  

Big C toprope onsighting (topsighting?)

At this point we didn’t really know what to do with ourselves.  We wandered over to the First Buttress, where CragDaddy and I both got smashed by The World’s Hardest 5.12 (12a…but a big fat sandbag!).  We bailed on it, then hopped on Oh It’s You Bob 11b, which is now on my list of best 11’s at the New!  I fought hard to nab the onsight, and CragDaddy made the flash look easy peasy.  The kids played together like champs, with only one minor instance of sibling bickering, and one poopy pants incident from the little one.  

We hiked out early enough to hop on over to the Small Wall before dinner, where there are three toprope routes on a 30 foot wall, all in the 5.6 and under range.  Big C styled and profiled his way up all three, working out some really good beta during a couple of reachy sections at the top.  Little Z was determined to have her turns as well, but was each time satisfied 10 feet off the deck.  

Our second day was spent at Lower Meadow, and the kids did just as well as they’d done the day before.  I, on the other hand, did not.  After FIVE times falling at the long move crux of Gato 12a, I finally threw in the towel and gave up.  Ordinarily, 5 tries wouldn’t seem unreasonable for a climb at that grade…especially a climb of that grade at the New.  But constant one hangs on a route that I’d had the exact same performance on several years prior really got under my skin…and I’ll be honest, it didn’t help that CragDaddy sent 3rd go of the day.  Oh well.  First world problems, right?  Time to refer back to Toddler Climbing Mantra #1: Climbing should be fun.  If it’s not, pick another route.  (Go here for the rest of the Toddler Climbing Mantras.)

Drawback of climbing solo – our only pics are bad crag selfies 😉

The main takeaway from this story however should be the word FREEDOM!  We finally feel like we have some!  Not that we all of a sudden are turning antisocial or anything, but the thought of planning a weekend without worrying about anyone else’s schedule/logistics save our own feels fantastic.  This weekend the weather finally looks like it’s taking a turn for the cooler…we’ll be out there, will you?!?

 

 

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SEND-tember Kickoff – Red River Gorge

Ordinarily when I see rain in the forecast for a climbing weekend I’m pretty bummed.  But when it’s Labor Day weekend and we’re going to the Red, I’m actually psyched.  That’s because I know rain actually means that all the fair weather holiday climbers will bail on their plans, leaving the dry rock for those of us that don’t mind a little bit of mud.  And ironically, despite the deluge we drove through Friday night, the only rain we saw was a bit of drizzle Saturday afternoon! 

CragDaddy stretching tall on Dogleg 12a

Day 1 was spent at Muir Valley’s Solarium, one of our fave spots to climb.  I’m slowly but surely working my way along the wall, and I can honestly say everything I’ve touched there is awesome!  After a quick warm-up on Air-Ride Eqipped 11a, I began my quest to exact revenge on Magnum Opus 12a, a route that I came up juuuuust short on last spring.  The “business” starts right off the deck and does not let up for 4 bolts – sequential, powerful movement culminating with a toss to a glory ledge that, if successful, earns you a sit-down rest.  If unsuccessful, you’re taking a scary whipper.  Scary because more than likely you were too pumped to clip the 4th bolt from the tweaky mid-crux pockets, and opted to wait for the glory ledge to reach down and clip at your feet.  (FYI with a heads up belay the fall is totally clean…ask me how I know.)  After the sit-down rest you are rewarded with 60 feet of significantly easier, albeit still a little pumpy, climbing.  

Me pulling the roof on Manifest Destiny 11d Photo: Michael Chickene

My first attempt of the day was pretty dismal.  The beta that I’d written down and had so dialed last spring just didn’t seem to be working well at all.  I had all I could do to go bolt to bolt, let along link anything together.  The cruiser upper section even had me pumped.  Since the draws were up I felt like I owed myself one more go, but after that I was planning on taking it down.

Happy hikers on the Muir Valley stairs

The second go started a little bit better – I initiated the crux and made the first hard move to get the 3rd bolt clipped.  The next bit wasn’t pretty, but I bobbled my way through the sea of pockets and over to a good hold shaped just like an ear that I hadn’t previously been using.  I realized at this point that I actually felt surprisingly good.  I got my feet up and made a move to a flat edge, only to miss it but somehow catch myself on the ear hold.  I took a deep breath and went again, that time I got it.  All that was left was the toss to glory.  The pump clock was ticking as my right hand frantically searched for the correct hold.  I finally grabbed what I could and threw up a hail mary…I felt gravity start to kick in and readied my mind to take the big ride, only to find that I somehow managed to latch the ledge as I was falling away!  After taking a loooong rest on the ledge, I finished up the rest of the route without too much trouble.  Wahoo – revenge was mine!!!

Another highlight on the day was getting the flash on Manifest Destiny 11d, courtesy of a spoon-feeding of beta from the rest of our crew.  CragDaddy also finished his day out on Manifest Destiny, after getting in some solid fitness burns on Galunlati 12b.  

Day 2 was spent on the left side of the Motherlode.  CragDaddy exacted his revenge upon Ball Scratcher 12a, sharing a send train others from our group – congratulations to Kristi Cooke for her first ever 5.12 tick, and Michael Johnston for his second!  I spent most of my time on Swahili Slang 12b, a technical masterpiece of funky sandbaggery.  While the style of climbing would be a much better fit at the New than the Red, the movement was perhaps the most unique I’ve ever seen at the grade.  Delicate footwork, creative thinking…and big balls.  If I’m ever gonna send this, I’m gonna have to grow a pair…figuratively, of course.  My first go I stick-clipped my way through 4 of the 8 or so bolts.  My second go I toproped, and actually cleanly linked from the ground to the 2nd to last bolt.  

Kristi Cooke keeping it classy on Ball Scratcher 12a

That’s the point where I fall apart.  From an awkward foot ledge that is attained via a “gasthumbdercling” (you know, a hold you hit like a gaston/undercling type thing with your thumb), you stretch out right to a good hold, then romp to the finish on jugs.  But I can’t reach the good hold, I’m not even close.  And because of the awkward hand position on the gastonber gasthumber awkward hold, my hands are tied, figuratively (and sort of literally!) as to how much I can reposition my body.  On the drive home i was visualizing it and potentially came up with another option that MIGHT work.  So I won’t rule it out just yet, but for now I’m not in a hurry to get back to it.  

Our third day was spent at Bob Marley crag.  I took a ridiculously long time to gear up for the starting dyno on Toker 11a, then after doing it felt silly that it took so much hemming and hawing. I also took a couple of burns on Beta-vul Pipeline 12a, an incredibly steep jug haul that climaxed with a long toss to a ledge…then a tricky rock over move onto a delicate slab for the last 15 feet.   A 3 hang was the best I could muster, but with a little more fitness later on in the season I think a route like that could go for me.  Honestly, for me just getting to the top of a route of that angle is an accomplishment, so no disappointment here!  

While it’s early in the season for the type of fitness one needs at the Red River Gorge, CragDaddy and I were psyched to walk away with a handful of good sends.  SENDtember is shaping up nicely, with trips to the New and Hidden Valley creeping onto the fall schedule.  Where did everyone else adventure to for the long weekend?

 

 

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Photos at Hidden Valley with Fixed Line Media

A couple of weeks ago, we were excited that despite it being August, climbing conditions were not unbearable.  THIS weekend, however, we were shocked to find that conditions were down right good.  The mornings were cool, the air was crisp…I can’t believe this is happening in August, but I’m gonna call it – It’s Fall Ya’ll!!!!  Bring on Sendtember and Rocktober!  

The stunning backdrop high on Meatballs 12a/b
Photo: Bryan Miller @fixedlinemedia

But first, this weekend.  It was awesome because we had a great crew of people and got to work with Bryan Miller of Fixed Line Media.  Bryan is a rad adventure photographer that does his best work dangling from, you guessed it, a fixed line.  He answered the call of the mountains after years at a corporate desk job, and boldly left it because life is too short to not do what you love.  We’ve been trying to set up this photo weekend for a long while, and this weekend it finally happened.

CragDaddy with his flagging game on point.
Photo: Bryan Miller @fixedlinemedia

Our weekend plans got off to a funky start on Friday night, when we rolled in to Hidden Valley around 8, only to discover that the lake itself was closed (meaning no camping.)  Luckily, there is a commecial campground about 10 minutes down the road, so we were able to find a spot there.  It was crowded, expensive, and filled with giant RVs…not the way we usually roll, but it worked great in a pinch, and our spot right by the river was lovely.

Lemme interrupt all the climbing porn to show you a sweet daddy daughter moment.

We started our weekend off by warming up on Tidy Bowl 10a and You’re Gonna Need More Charmin Mr. Whipple 11a (seriously, these names?!?)  Then we made our way over to the main event – Meatballs 12a/b.  We figured out the beta for Meatballs a few weeks ago, and after a little more training in the gym, we both felt ready to send.  Bryan was psyched at the aesthetics of the rock, so he got rigged up on a neighboring route, and away we went.  Since Steve was kind enough to hang draws for me, I was able to send on my first attempt of the day, then I took another lap to make sure we got the shot Bryan wanted.  The lighting was perfect during Steve’s first send attempt, but he was so distracted flexing for the camera that he pitched off at the anchors.  😉  He tried it again later in the day though, and put it down in fine style.

Big C keeping it classy on Butt Crack 5.7+

Photo: Bryan Miller @fixedlinemedia

The objective for Day 2 was Blues Brothers 12a, another line we’d tried on our last trip out.  It’s a gorgeous, intimidating line that has a little bit of everything.  A burly, technical crack down low, some powerful bouldery moves on the steep headwall, culminating with a slopey mantle to the chains with some big air consequences.  It was my turn to hang draws, and if I’m honest, I was a little nervous about it.  On the last trip we’d had trouble finding the holds for the finish and resorted to stick clip shenanigans to get to the chains. This time though, the opening sequence felt far less awkward, thanks to refined beta and the addition of a cheater block that enabled me to reach the starting holds and still keep my shoulders engaged.  I was also more than delighted to find that our autumn-like conditions made the slopey holds at the top feel as gritty as sandpaper, making the final sequence a LOT more secure.  With the draws up and beta dialed, I felt pretty good about a next-go send, but there was a deadpoint move in the middle that I wasn’t sure I could hit on the fly.  It doesn’t always work out, but today it did – every sequence flowed smoothly, save a brief moment of panic where I got stalled out for a second or two trying to stand up out of the finishing crux.  But all’s well that ends well.  CragDaddy put in two solid burns, but didn’t quite have enough gas to finish it out, though I’m sure it’ll go down for him next trip.  

CragDaddy cutting loose on Blues Brothers 12a Photo: Bryan Miller @fixedlinemedia

When it came down to actual pitches done over the weekend, quality definitely won out over quantity.  Seems like everyone in our (large) crew accomplished something that they wanted to on the trip.  Turns out good people, good weather, and good climbing is still the perfect trifecta for fall adventures!

Sticking the deadpoint move on Blues Brothers 12a
Photo; Bryan Miller @fixedlinemedia

Many many thanks to Bryan Miller for hanging out with us (literally as well as figuratively) – you really captured the beauty of what Hidden Valley has to offer to the Southeastern climber.  Also props to the rest of the crew this weekend – Casey, Terah, Lee, and Sydney, thanks for the belays and all the help with the kiddos. Next week – Red River Gorge or bust! 

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