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

New River Gorge, Round 2!

Me and my sweet girl.

Me and my sweet girl.

Another beautiful spring weekend means another trip to the New River Gorge.  And another trip to the New means another great weekend of family, friends, laughs…and of course climbing!  This was the second week of my Rock Climber’s Training Manual “perfomance phase,” and after the inconsistencies from the first week, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  Here’s how it went…

Michelin Man Original Finish (5.12b) – After one-hanging this one last weekend, sending this was my primary goal for this trip.  I was hoping that hopping on it fresh as a daisy on Day 1 would feel a lot easier than trying it at the tail end of Day 2 like last time, and I was right!  After a quick warm-up it went down without much trouble on my first attempt of the day.

The middle part of the day was spent wandering around somewhat lackadaisically in search of rock that wasn’t seeping after all the rain from the previous days.   We ended up hiking back out of Bubba City and driving over to Sunshine Buttress to try Unbroken Chain (5.12a.)  Ordinarily I’m a big fan of technical aretes…but this one was spooky.  A sideways dyno shut me down about halfway up.  I volunteered to clean on toprope and was able to figure out some beta for that section, but I’m pretty certain I would have committment issues on the sharp end…

Cruxin at the top of Michelin Man Original

Cruxin at the top of Michelin Man Original

"Climb THIS route Daddy!"

“Climb THIS route Daddy!”

Saturday night was filled with good burgers, great conversation, and lots of prehab activities…Arm-aids, theracanes, foam rollers, we had it all.  And apparently it all worked, because the next day we had a nice-sized send train going at Endless Wall!

A little late night pre-hab action.

It hurts so good.

Modern Primitive (5.12b) – This route had been on our radar for quite a while, but it seemed like there was always something else on the agenda until now.  So after warming up on S’more Energy (5.11c) we headed over to it.  The line goes up a very aesthetic wall – tan rock with large swirls of caramel colors mixed in.  The business is in the middle, with two very technical, very thin cruxes separated by an okay rest.  The moves are pretty long, but I actually think the advantage actually goes to a shorter (or more flexible) climber on this one, due to all the funky hand/foot shenanigans.  The last move of the crux is keeping the dreaded barn door at bay off of a not-so-great sloping hold.  At this point you’d like to clip, but instead you have to continue traveling up and left to a really long lockoff (good holds to a GREAT hold…but you’re pretty pumped when you have to do it.)

Crag-Daddy taking a spin on Modern Prim

Crag-Daddy taking a spin on Modern Prim

My first impression of the route was…geez, I’d hate to fall THERE!  So I opted to take a toprope lap for my first burn, at which point I did all the moves, but they felt ridiculously hard, so I toproped it one more time…and then of course got it clean.  Ugh.  Clearly I should have led it.  This route was seeing a whole lot of action, so by the time I got a chance for an actual redpoint attempt, the route was baking in the sun.  The holds felt way worse, in particular a fingerlock in a mail slot that was key for the first hard moves.  But I squeaked through that as well as the next sequence.  Then you know that really long lockoff that I didn’t want to fall at?  I came up short and went whizzing down…and down..and down.  I shouted a word that I don’t normally say…and managed to say it 3 times (very loudly) before I stopped falling.

Getting started in "the business" on Modern Primitive

Getting started in “the business” on Modern Primitive

But there’s nothing better for your lead head than a safe, clean fall.  So although I was obviously wishing I would have sent, it’d been a long time since I’d had a big whipper, so I didn’t regret that it happened.  Steve took another lap, and while he didn’t send, made good progress, and was nice enough to brush all the holds REALLY well for me on the way down.

Reeling in the barn door.

Reeling in the barn door.

My last burn I felt really solid, and the mail slot that had gotten manky felt substantially better after the good brushing.  I executed all my beta perfectly through the crux, took a few deep breaths, and popped for the jug.  I breathed a sigh of relief this time when I stuck it, then finished it up…carefully, as there’s still one more move to the chains that will keep you awake!

I was psyched to leave with another pair of 12’s, bringing my total up to 4 during this performance phase.  We’ve still got a couple more trips before taking a break for a week or two, and the stoke is still high!  This coming weekend we’ll be climbing at the Red River Gorge for the first time with Baby Zu (and also probably swimming…forecast is lookin’ pretty wet!)



The Perfect Hand-Me-Down: 3 Kids and 1 Down Suit

Before I became pregnant with my first child, I was blessed to have some like-minded friends who were just phasing out of the life stage we were just getting ourselves into.  Their then-toddler would be their last child, and they were actually preparing to move to Germany…which meant our family was one of the many to benefit from their infant outdoor gear archives!

We scored bigtime in the clothing and shoe department, most of which at this point has either been worn into the ground or given to other families of outdoorsy little boys who like to play in the mud.  However, my most “favoritest” piece of all resurfaced this winter for yet a THIRD time – an old, REI brand, bunting-style down suit that at this point has probably logged hundreds, maybe even thousands, of hours at the crag!

I tried to find a link to this suit on REI’s website, but it appears that they no longer make this product. There are, however, lots of brands that make similar suits, although all soar way higher than the $50 price tag the original owners paid!  (When Big C aged out of the suit, we replaced it with one from Mountain Molehill, which ironically cost twice as much and didn’t hold up even half as well.)

Here’s Finn, circa 2008 or so, who I like to think of as the “original Cragbaby.”  His mom was the first woman I ever knew that climbed while pregnant, and they were the ones that showed us it was possible to continue climbing with an infant in tow.


Next comes Big C, although he wasn’t so big back in 2011.  The size on the tag says 12 months, but Big C rocked it all the way from 6 months until we could barely get it zipped up at 18 months!  For crisp fall nights he’d use it as a sleeping bag, then stay in it for breakfast at camp until we were ready to hit the crag.  On really cold winter climbing trips, he’d stay in it virtually 24/7!

20 months old at the Red River Gorge, November 2011

20 months old at the Red River Gorge

Although I gave away a lot of Big C’s stuff when I found out Baby Zu was gonna be a girl, I made sure to save this suit.  And since she was such a little squirt, it took a bit longer for her to be able to fit in it…but I’m hoping that means it’ll take us through one last winter season before we retire it again.

11 months old at Crowders Mountain, February 2015

11 months old at Crowders Mountain

Hand-me-downs are great on so many practical levels – financially, environmentally, and convenience to name a few.  But reusing an integral piece of gear also carries a lot of sentimental value, at least for me.  Watching a bundled up Baby Zu playing at the base of the cliff brought back so much imagery of her brother…in the same outfit, playing with the same climbing gear, at the same crag.  It was a bittersweet reminder that these childhood moments are fleeting – the gear gets used again, but I can’t stop those kiddos from growing up!

Is there a sentimental piece of gear at your house that’s been passed up, down, and all around?


(For easy pinning…)






Performance Week 1: New River Gorge

High water on Fern Creek thanks to the monsoons from the day before!

High water on Fern Creek thanks to the monsoons from the day before!

This past weekend marked the first trip of my “Performance Phase” in my first training cycle using the Rock Climber’s Training Manual.  There were a few ups and downs, but overall I am very pleased with how I climbed, and am optimistic about how the next few weeks will go.  I’ll start with the downs, so I can end on a good note!


On the routes I’d previously been on (and thus already worked out the moves for), I got shutdown.  I failed miserably on Techman (5.12c), which had been my primary goal for the weekend.  The crux went okay, but I got stuck on the next big move.  I was confused about the beta I’d written down before, and got tunnel vision trying to work out the moves again.  (Once I got home, I remembered we’d taken a beta video last fall…upon watching it I realized that what I SHOULD have done in that section was far more straightforward than what I’d been trying, but required a lot more try hard than what I was mustering.)

The next down involved Likme (5.12a), another route I’d been previously close to sending a while back.  The bolting is strange, which makes for a scary traverse on 5.11 terrain with a gnarly swinging fall potential.  An attentive belay would keep you off the ground, but a belayer collision would be pretty likely.  Even though I’d gotten through that section clean on lead before, I could not commit to it this time around, and decided to rehearse it on toprope first.  I then proceeded to fall in what would have been the worst possible spot, then fired the crux clean.  I suppose I could have continued to rehearse the no-fall moves a little more til I felt comfortable, but I just didn’t feel good about it.

Slab-dyno prep...

Slab-dyno prep…


However, the weekend was literally overflowing with silver linings, from both myself and the Crag-Daddy (who literally had the best-performing climbing weekend of his entire LIFE!)  In fact I only mentioned the downs because I feel like the balance of failure and success is important. But at the end of the weekend, I walked away with several firsts – first time ever bagging two 5.12’s in a single weekend, and first time I’ve ever sent 12b second go!  Here are my highlights…

Le Futuriste (5.12b) – At first I thought it was the adrenaline talking, but here I am a few days later, and I still think this might be my absolute favorite line at Endless Wall, maybe even the entire New River Gorge.  A little bit of everything – a funky boulder problem start to get the blood flowing, several long stand-up cruxes on the slab (one of which is literally a slab dyno!), and a gorgeous arete that requires the perfect balance of precision and power.  I went in with no expectations, and surprised myself when I ALMOST flashed it, only falling at the very last hard move at the top of the arete.  With climbing that fun, having to hop on it again for a redpoint go didn’t bother me one bit!

Trusting the rubber on my Tenaya Tarifa for the crux of La Futuriste 5.12b

Trusting the rubber on my Tenaya Tarifa for the crux of La Futuriste 5.12b Photo: Javier Licon

Fired for Sandbaggin’ (5.12a) - I’d actually never heard of this Bubba City line before having gotten on it.  If you can crimp hard and keep your head together, then this route is for you!  The crux sequence is short-lived and under the first bolt – a long move off of two tiny crimps, one of which is absolutely terrible.  The rest of the route is significantly easier, although there are definitely a couple of sequences up higher that will keep you awake (mid 5.11.)  Our crew had a giant send train going on this one – 7 sends, all of which were either flashes or 2nd go’s (second go for me.)

Big C tackling the fixed lines on the way in to Bubba City

Big C tackling the fixed lines on the way in to Bubba City

Michelin Man (5.12b) – Although I can’t claim the send on this one yet, I’m pretty psyched about a second go one-hang at the very end of the weekend!  This route is AMAZING, definitely the best rock I’ve touched at Bubba City.  The majority of the route features long moves between good holds on a gently overhanging face, to a hand jam rest, then a cool move on a very random 2-finger pocket to an almost hands-free rest.  Then you can choose whether to go left to keep the route at 11d, or head right for a reachy 12b slab crux.  Our crew opted for the latter.  What makes me most excited about this is that the only other time I have been on this route was a couple of years ago, and I got completely shut down at the first bolt (a big toss that is very tenuous to set up for if you’re short.)  My first go I pretty much went bolt to bolt, as it took some thinking to work out my beta on some of the longer moves.  I was very pleased to flash the 12b crux, but figured my guns were too smoked to be able to link the pumpy bottom section together.  I presumed my 2nd attempt would be more of a beta refining journey than an actual sending attempt.  However I was super psyched to make it just 3 moves from the hand jam rest before falling!  I’m optimistic the route will go this coming weekend for me (especially after the power endurance route I put myself through last night!)

My rock princess sitting in a mud puddle.

My rock princess sitting in a mud puddle.

Upon reflection, the most interesting observation I noted about my performance was that I climbed very well on the routes that were completely new to me, and not so well on the routes I’d had previous “baggage” with.  I’ve thought about it some, and I think I figured out why.  While I came into the weekend well-prepared physically, I was lacking in the mental prep.  I came in fired up with a ton of psych…but not enough focus.  Had I been more open-minded about Techman, I would have tried harder with the beta that I was so sure was wrong (and I would have remembered to watch the beta video the night before we left, duh!)  Had I really thought through my previous feelings about Likme, I probably would have realized it wasn’t worth my time, and would have had more energy for climbing (and perhaps sending) Michelin Man.

But with two 5.12 ticks and another in the hopper, I’m very excited to see the rest of this spring sending season unfold!  We’re headed back to the New this weekend, and the weather looks stellar!  Where are YOU headed?

Crag Daddy getting serious on Michelin Man 5.12b)...sun's out, tongue's out, I guess!

Crag Daddy getting serious on Michelin Man 5.12b)…sun’s out, tongue’s out, I guess! Photo: Javier Licon


Rock Climber’s Training Manual Part 2 – Power/Power Endurance

A few weeks ago I posted about how things were going for me in first two phases (Base Fitness and Strength) of the Rock Prodigy Training Program.  Now that I’ve completed the latter two training phases (Power and Power Endurance), it seems appropriate to share another progress report.

Power has never been my strong suit.  When I get shut down on a route/problem, it’s generally because I just cannot execute a particular move.  On the flip side, however, if I CAN do all the moves on a route, linking them together *usually* comes fairly quickly.  Bouldering at the gym has helped, as well as making a conscious effort to climb with momentum.  However, compared to pretty much every other aspect of my climbing, my power still tends to lag behind.  I guess you could say I’m more of a turtle than a hare…


So I approached this phase of the training program feeling both hopeful as well as intimidated.  The training activities unique to the power phase are Limit Bouldering (working 1-2 SUPER HARD moves, as opposed to a few kinda hard moves, or a lot of not as hard moves), and Campus Board workouts.  During the first couple of gym workouts I was very pleased with how I felt coming right out of the strength phase.  I nabbed a couple of V5 onsights, and made quick work of a problem whose pinches would have most certainly given me trouble pre-hangboarding.  By the end of the power phase I was also able to send some burly, thuggish (read: anti-Cragmama) problems in the V5/V6 range, and while I didn’t send either of my limit bouldering problems, I was pleased with the progress that I’d made.

But the most important boost for me in the power phase was the confidence boost that came when I realized I could actually use the campus board!  Every other time I’d tried (which was admittedly not very often), I would fail miserably, even on the largest rungs.  I could do pull-ups off the rungs, but I just couldn’t latch the next hold with enough precision to even stay on (let alone try to move off of it to the next rung.)  About a month before starting this program I’d experimented with campusing on the HIT strips of our systems wall after climbing sessions. The moves were twice as long and the angle was much steeper, but the holds were giant jugs, which for me meant I could practice the coordination and movement aspects of campusing without worrying about the precision piece.

That plus the strength gains from the hangboard sessions must have worked, because I shocked myself when I was able to move up 2-3 rungs on my very first campus board workout!  By the 4th workout I could both match and ladder my way up to all but the last two rungs.

Sending (or lack thereof): Believe it or not, we logged zero hours on real rock during my dedicated Power weeks, due to weather, Baby Zu AND Big C birthdays, and a trip to Disney World with the grandparents!


After the Power phase I missed a couple of training sessions due to Disney World, but tried to pick up where I left off as best I could.  The foundation of Power Endurance (PE) training revolves around Interval training – up/down laps on a rope, and Linked Bouldering Circuits (which for those of you familiar with training, is similar to 4×4’s, but with a downclimbing component that keeps you on the wall.) I’ll be honest, the first week and a half of PE training was BRUTAL. I left the gym each night feeling completely annihilated, and only felt slightly better the next morning.


It’s also worth noting that during this time I also started looking at my extra curricular activity levels.  The creators of this program take a pretty strong stance against regular cardiovascular exercise, particularly during the latter phases of the program (other than ARC-ing, which could be considered aerobic.)  While climbing is probably the only physical activity that I ever have regular, specific improvement goals with, I do enjoy being active and well-rounded.  I mean, what good is it to climb 5.12 if you can’t make it to the base of the cliff without bursting a lung?  So in the interest of general fitness, I almost always do SOMETHING exercise-y each day – run, bike, elliptical, etc.

But as I got more and more annihilated with each PE workout, I started to wonder if perhaps I was overtraining.  If maybe all of the lower intensity work I was doing in the cardio arena was zapping my power.  I knew I’d go INSANE if I cut out ALL non-climbing activities, but I made a conscious effort to cut back.  (I also made a valiant attempt to get more sleep, although “more” is a relative term with a 13 month old that is still a terrible night-sleeper.)

The second half of the PE phase was decidedly better for me.  My body felt as if it was in a much better balance of “work hard, rest hard.”  I was still trying hard, but since I was also trying smarter, I felt tired but not obliterated after workouts.

SendingAxis (5.11d) – This send is particularly noteworthy for me b/c it marks my hardest send on gear to date! I got on it early in the Strength phase, and then sent it towards the end of Power Endurance…and there is no comparison to describe how much stronger I felt the latter time!  More on that here.

Now it’s on to the Performance Phase of the program, which will hopefully be littered with sends – this past weekend’s trip to the New River Gorge was a great start, more on that in a couple of days!


3 Climbing Milestones in 1 Weekend!

Happy kiddos at the  crag!

Happy kiddos at the crag!

We finally had an entire weekend free to head up to the New River Gorge, which of course meant it was going to be snowing and in the THIRTIES (after highs in the 60’s the weekend before…).  But at least the weather was good in our neck of the woods, even if it did feel more like a warm winter day rather than spring.  And even though we had to settle for Plan B, it ended up being a weekend filled with important milestones!

The whole family marched up to Red Wall at Crowders Mountain on Saturday morning.  Steve had his sights set on Silence the Critics (5.12b), I was hoping to send Axis (5.11d), and Big C was excited to try out the new hammock he’d gotten for his birthday.

The climbing on Axis is pretty thuggy, but also requires precise footwork on holds that are terrible to non-existent.  It starts with 20 feet of face climbing, before moving into a very aesthetic diagonal crack/seam, which contains two cruxes.  The initial technical crux apparently used to be a lot more short-lived until just a couple of months ago when a big jug broke off, followed by a pump crux exiting the crack.  After the crack there’s another 25 feet or so of moderate climbing.  There are 2 bolts on the lower face and 1 piton in the crack, the rest is protected traditionally.

Steve ended up sending his project on the 2nd go of the day (!), and the hammock worked out great except for a thankfully minor head injury when Big C flipped upside down out of it (I guess he’s hard-headed in more ways than one.)

As for Axis, it was the scene of three major milestones for me…

Testing out the new hammock!

Testing out the new hammock!


Trad climbing has been sporadic at best for our family ever since Big C’s arrival – sport climbing logistics are just way easier to manage.  And we’ve placed ZERO gear since Baby Zu entered the scene.  But Axis was one of the few lines left at Crowders Main Walls that I still needed to tick, and since it was near Steve’s project it seemed like a good time to try it.  Since the anchors are shared with a great warm-up (Master Beta 5.10c), and since I’m kind of a trad pansy, it was easy to set up a toprope to work out the moves/gear.  I’d gotten in 2 runs on it 6 weeks ago…and while I was able to do all the moves on it, the thought of linking everything AND placing the gear felt pretty impossible.  But I felt a lot stronger on it this past weekend, which I credit to the power endurance training I’ve been doing out of the Rock Climber’s Training Manual (more on that next week.)

I took another couple of toprope laps on it on Saturday, then decided it was time to put my big girl panties on and tie in to the sharp end.  I got established in the crack, slotted the first nut, and breathed a sigh of relief, as the stance is pretty tenuous.  I eased carefully into the first crux executing my beta just as planned, but reached a little too high too soon and my smeared left foot slid right off.

I got back on and finished the route without much trouble, and though I was slightly disappointed to walk away without the send, it was the first time in a loooong time that I’d fallen on my gear (probably 2 years at least!)  No matter how textbook you think you’re gear is, it’s always a mental boost to actually put it to the test!

First redpoint run...

First redpoint run…


The forecast for Sunday was shaping up to be a little warmer, and our friends were all headed back out the next day, but we had originally planned to stay home.  With church we wouldn’t be able to get out there til noon, and Big C takes almost an hour to do the hike when his legs are fresh…it didnt’ seem worth the effort.  But my hero of a husband suggested that I head out there by myself the next day after church while he watched both kiddos!

It was the first time I’d climbed outdoors without Baby Zu, and the first time I’d climbed without any kids at all since spring of 2013.  I’d forgotten how much EASIER it is!!!  I arrived in the parking lot just before noon, my partner and I were at the base by 12:30, and by 1:15 we’d both done some warm-up pitches and I was tying in for my redpoint burn!  Seriously that process would have taken three times as long with the kiddos around!

I don’t say that to imply that I’d rather they not be around – I absolutely LOVE family climbing days, and would 99% of the time rather climb with them than without them.  But I mention it because it reminded me of how blessed we are to have such great climbing partners that are willing to put up with our traveling family circus almost every weekend!  Because of us they get in less pitches, carry in more gear, and are probably less focused than had they done a kid-free day.  So to all of our partners,  we probably don’t say it enough, but THANK YOU for all that you do for us!

Big C enjoying some time with April, one of his fave climbing partners!

Big C enjoying some time with April, one of his fave climbing partners!


And the extra day was worth it – I sent Axis on my very first try of the day, making it my hardest send on gear to date!  I guess technically it’s mixed, but it’s definitely way more trad than sport.  Previously the grade was 5.11c/d, but since the jug broke there’s been talk of bumping the grade up a letter or 2.  My guess is that the grade is probably more settled in at 5.11d now, but I’d love to hear from any one else that’s done it in it’s current state.