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

Gettin’ Sendy on Green Envy

I am quick to profess my love for the New River Gorge.  It is the gold standard by which I measure all other crags against.  I’ve been climbing there since 2007 and it just never gets old.  But for all that love, there’s just as much frustration, as the nature of NRG climbing seems to know just how to expose both my strengths and weaknesses, sometimes even on the same route.  

Generally speaking, the New is known for being “reachy,” and is stereotypically harder for shorter climbers.  This is the major reason why the really strong climbing team kids mostly go to the Red.  This also helps explain why there have been countless female 5.14 ascents at other major climbing destinations, but only 2 women can stake that claim at the New.  (And those achievements have only been in the last few years – prior to 2015, the New had seen one 13c ascent by a female, despite lots of 13b’s.)  Obviously, as routes get more difficult, there is an expectation that the distance between holds could get larger.  But at most other areas, there will often be intermediate handholds or a higher foothold to mitigate the height factor.  The rock at the New is less featured, and it’s not uncommon for everyone to be making moves off the same holds.  

Hangin’ around on Yowsah 12a

As for me, one of my only two 5.13’s was at the New – The Ruchert Motion 13a, sent in December of 2017.  But aside from that, my hardest NRG sends were 12b’s.  And considering that Ruchert is an 89 degree slab where the crux was all about footwork and terrible holds (aka everything I love), it has been easy for me to write that one off as an anomaly.  With that obvious exception, I’ve sort of considered 12b to be my ceiling at the New, and have rarely ventured on anything harder.

But a season training with Power Climbing Company last year has inspired me to think bigger and try harder.  Since then I’ve been throwing myself whole heartedly into working on my most obvious weakness – big moves requiring big power.  

Spring rains keeping approaches exciting!


I was greatly encouraged to see my training paying off a few weeks ago when I was able to do all the moves on Green Envy 12c on my first day of working it.  I even managed a 2 hang…but all on toprope.  There is a fairly big, fairly swinging fall potential between the 3rd and 4th bolts, and I can sometimes be a fairly big pansy.

Anyway, after finally finding a 12c that seemed both doable and enjoyable, I was psyched to see a cooperative weather forecast this past weekend.  Unfortunately, the rain from the night before had drenched all warm-up possibilities, which meant we had to warm up on the project.  

There was a lot of stick-clipping, pulling on draws, and other shenanigans that are common when your warm up isn’t really a warm-up, but at least the rock felt great.  Conditions were supberb, save one key jug with a puddle in it.  We stuffed a microfiber towel in it to suck up the water, and it was good to go!

With my second attempt came the debate over leading vs toproping.  After the “warm-up lap”, plus several crux rehearsals on the way down, I was feeling pretty good about all the moves except the initial boulder problem I’d had to skip (and couldn’t lower back to.)  Most importantly, I’d yet to come anywhere close to linking the crux into the run out, and the thought of heading into that terrain pumped made me feel a little nauseated.  If I led it, I was pretty certain that I would automatically hang at the crux bolt.  

Hitting the jug slot after the runout.

After a lot of hemming and hawing, I decided to have one more “dress rehearsal” on TR before giving it a redpoint go.  I knew I could give it hell on TR, and get a realistic picture of how the runout would feel physically when it’s go time..  Once I’m in redpoint mode, I’m not thinking about the fall anyway, and I figured the confidence boost of a long TR link might be more beneficial than a hesitant lap bolt to bolt.  (Honestly you guys, the fall is probably not that bad.  I’m not trying to make a huge deal out of it, just trying to be authentic on the blog!)  

Sure enough, I TR’d it clean, with only a slight pang of regret when I made the final hard move and stepped into the rest before the 5.10 terrain leading to the top.  It’s all part of the process.  If I did it once, I could do it again – and most importantly, because my brain wasn’t cluttered up thinking about the falls, I was able to find a surprisingly good shake out stance a few moves before the runout, which assured me I wouldn’t be doing scary moves with a scary pump.

After a nice long rest, it was time to git er done.  The initial boulder problem went well, as did the second crux just after that.  I sunk down low in my newly found rest stance and slowed my breathing.  I moved smoothly into the runout section, but when it came time to rock onto the high foot and latch the side by side crimps, the filtered sunlight blinded me for a second, and my right hand accidentally found the hold my left hand needed.  I discovered my mistake when I tried to bring my left hand up and there was nothing there, but after a flash of panic I just flagged my left foot harder and locked off to the clipping hold…crisis averted!

The final test was a very powerful sequence launching out diagonally to a big pocket.  The move requires every millimeter of reach I’ve got, and is exponentially harder to do when pumped, but this time it was more solid and controlled than I’d ever done it.

Another couple of lock offs and a bobbled clip on a twisted draw had me coming in hot to the last rest, but I was able to get it all back and finish it up.  Yay for first 12c at the New!  Also, if anyone is interested in the video, you can check it out below…beware, I climb like a sloth, so I’m not offended if you need to fast forward to the good parts! 😉

As for the next day, what better way to stay balanced after a hard send than to get on something that exploits all your weaknesses?  After hanging draws for my man on Out of the Bag 11d, and trying out Not on the First Date 11c, I headed over to The Hole to get stomped on Yowsah 12a.  It went about as I expected, although I made significant progress between my first and second attempts.  I’m not gonna move heaven and earth to get back to it, but if opportunity presents itself, I will definitely get on it again!  After all, who doesn’t love a long whipper that’s nothing but air!!!


Spring: Here’s Where Things Stand.

Trying hard on Signed with Blood 12b

Spring climbing season is always a little more finicky than fall. The weather is more of a gamble, and conditions are decidedly better at the beginning of the season (when you’re at your weakest) versus the end (when you’re at your strongest.) This is the opposite of fall, when conditions are steadily improving at (hopefully) the same pace you are. That said, completing your spring projects before the summer heat sets in usually becomes a race against rapidly deteriorating conditions.

This is typically the point in the spring where I realize there are so many good routes, and so little time!!! Even though the winter was so wet we got outside approximately zero times, I came into the spring fairly strong. Winter training consisted of a lot of “try hard” bouldering in the gym, and I am really getting used to (dare I say it, almost embracing) moving with momentum and power.  I based my training off the personalized program that Kris Hampton from Power Company Climbing gave me last year, and in some ways, I feel like I’m getting more out of it this second time around.  Maybe because I’m more familiar with the drills I’m able to apply the skills better?  Who knows, but I’ll take it!  (And thanks Kris, for the gift that apparently keeps on giving!)  

So in light of all of that, here’s what’s been happening after about a month’s worth of climbing…

HERA’S BONDAGE 11d – SENT 3/23.  Perfect route for remembering how to rock climb after a winter’s worth of plastic – more on that here.

HERE COMES THE RAIN 12b – Classic hard NC slab route at The Dump.  Cryptic, committing, and a couple of hard clips.  4 tries on 3/30.  Best go spit me off moving to the clipping hold of the last bolt.  Most exciting go featured me falling with an armful of rope out when my foot popped off without warning at the 3rd bolt (yeehaw!)   

Cragkiddo #1 looking casual out at the Meadow

STARRY 12a – SENT 4/6.  This was a rematch continued over from back in 2016 when I punted off the last move.  After a bolt to bolt warm-up hanging draws, I sent 2nd go of the day.  The moves felt a lot easier than I’d remembered them…but I still only narrowly avoided the punt on that same finishing move.  I tossed, came up short, managed to catch myself, shake out, go again, and latch.  I’ll take it! 

GREEN ENVY 12c – This is the one you guys.  If I could choose just one route to send this season, it would be this one.  Monster line that includes a good mix of things I’m good at (crimpy face climbing) and things I’m not (giant, bouldery moves.)  Took 3 exhausting TR burns on it on 4/7.  Opted for the TR b/c there’s a fairly scary (but probably clean) runout between the 3rd and 4th bolts, as well as just a TON of intricate beta to dial in.  Best go was linking from mid-runout to the top.  Time to tackle it on the sharp end.  

SIGNED WITH BLOOD 12b – Of all the lines I’ve tried this spring, this is the one that was hardest to walk away from.  Tried on 4/13, the delicate movement on the arete was everything I love, but ufortunately I got on it too late in the day to put it all together.  Best go was a fall just before the last bolt, when stalling out for far too long around the 2nd bolt trying to remember my beta finally caught up with me.  Too bad the next day was rainy.  

HIPPOCRITE 12a – That next day rain day is what prompted us to head to the Zoo to get on this beast.  Though it’s much steeper and far more powerful than our typical face climbing fare, it was dry and only 45 feet tall – plus it’s good to work your weaknesses, right?!?   Unfortunately for both of us, however, we couldn’t quite get our Day 3 guns to fire on all cylinders when it came time for that giant undercling move at the crux.  My best go out of 4 was a one hang. 

Super Dad Ferry ride across the creek

So that’s what’s in the hopper for me this season.  Nothing outrageous, grade-wise, but definitely some pushing out of the comfort zone style-wise for me.  If all goes well and the weather cooperates, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think they could all go down.  Or, if we get a slew of rainy weekends combined with a lapse of try hard on my part, I could easily be heading into the summer with zero new notches in my belt.  But that’s how it goes.  Sending season is unpredictable at best, right?  In the meantime, Green Envy remains priority uno.  Which means you can find me doing 4x4s in the gym mid-week and doing anti-rain dances as the weekends approach.  


Spring Has Sprung!

I generally don’t write blog posts for a ho-hum day trip to Pilot Mountain.  Nothing personal against Pilot Mountain, it’s just that by this point, most of the lines there fall into one of three categories for me: done it and already written about it, done it but it’s not worth writing about, or still working on it with nothing new to report!  

Pilot has some of the best views in the NC Piedmont!

But this weekend I got to try a line that, for some reason or another, I’d skipped over back in the day when Pilot was among our regular weekend haunts.  It’s actually just an alternate start to Ethics in Bondage 12b/c, currently referred to on Mountain Project as “Hera’s Bondage.”  This route was among many that have received much needed face lifts in recent years, and hopefully trading out the old rusty pitons for shiny new glue-ins will make more folks notice it, because it’s definitely a line worth doing! 

Entering the crux sequence

The original start begins with a check-your-ape-index reach that goes directly into a couple of campus moves until you can get your feet up to a good stance under a roof.  From there it’s a traverse to the next bolt, where the rest of the climbing tackles a face that steepens the higher you get.  The start moves are burly, dynamic, and the opposite of everything I am good at.  I tried it rather unsuccessfully years ago and then forgot all about it until this past weekend.  

The alternate start does the initial boulder problem on Herculean Test 11a.  Ironically, this variation actually seems to flow better than the original line, at least in my opinion.  It’s more direct, and seems to fit in better with the difficulty of the rest of the route.  After the boulder problem, you are at a great stance to tackle the well-defined thin crux just after the roof, followed by pumpier than it looks climbing out the upper overhang.  Disclaimer – the rest of the climbing may or may not actually be pumpy…I’ve been doing more power than endurance lately, and was definitely feeling it on Saturday!!!  

The cool thing about this link-up is that it combines the best parts of two often overlooked lines into one awesome route in the 11+ range (a grade at which there is not a ton of at Pilot.)  Seriously, it’s just as good as Overhanging Hangover and Any Major Dude.  Also worth noting is that doing Herculean Test the original, 11a way, still requires a small cam between the 1st and 2nd bolt, and since most folks don’t bring gear to Pilot, this variation is a much more accessible option – though harder for sure.

Best part of this pic is the dirty hands!

As i mentioned before, I was pretty pumped on this sucker, which is probably why it took me one more try than it should have, but a send is a send, right?!?  CragDaddy sent also, and our friend Lawrence even inspired us all by sending the direct Ethics in Bondage line.  Not to be outdone, the newly-turned-9 CragKiddo took a break from catching lizards long enough for a chance to enjoy the views on Black Rain.  

For a first day out this spring, we couldn’t have asked for anything better.  This is the first time that weather has been such a problem during the winter that we have gotten out ZERO times during winter training.  The plus side is we’ve been getting strong in the gym…the down side is it takes a hot minute to remember how to actually climb on real rock!  That said, we all have fingers crossed for at least a few good weekends of spring conditions before heading directly into summer!!!



(Spry) Look, it’s Winter!

What do you do when climbing season goes straight from summer to winter?  Give up on the New River Gorge and follow the sun!  After yet another forecast of cold drizzle in Fayetteville, WV a couple of weekends ago, I got the green light from CragDaddy to make my own climbing plans.  A lot going on for him at work plus a minor knee injury meant his motivation was pretty low.  To take full advantage of flying solo, I decided to put out some feelers to see if anyone would be up for joining me at an area that is impossible to take the kids to – Hanging Chain at Rumbling Bald.  The hike is long, with the last half being a steep bushwhack straight up the side of the mountain, and the base is rocky with no good kid-hangout spots.  There are plenty of rocks and slabs to scramble around on, with fall potentials that ricochet back and forth down the gully and into the valley.  Needless to say, not the most kid-friendly combo.  

Photo: Bryan Miller

So anyway, I actually got multiple takers, one for each day.  Our objective was Spry Look, an old Porter Jarrard sandbag that would see far more action if it wasn’t guarded by such an obnoxious approach to a south-facing crag that is only climbable during the winter (and subsequently the shortest amount of daylight.)  The Day 1 strategy was for a dawn patrol start, so we could be at the parking lot right when it opened.  Amazingly enough, we torched the hike in just under an hour.  However, all minutes saved on the hike were made up for with me hanging draws…it wasn’t pretty. 

The first 40 feet is sort of an approach pitch to the real action – easy (5.7?) and protected by gear and a bolt.  The only crux of this opening bit is treading lightly around a giant hollow flake.  After the bolt you will arrive at a pedestal on which you can stand and place a bomber cam under a bulge.  Pulling the bulge will bring you to a stance at the base of a seam leading into a sea of endless bolts to the top of the cliff.

Here’s where the fun begins.  The rest of the climbing feels like a giant V3 (perhaps sprinkled with a side of V4?) boulder problem that goes on for 9 bolts.  Nothing really that hard, but also nothing really that easy.  If you like crimps, none of the holds are terrible…but none of them are particularly helpful for slowing the rapidly increasing pump clock.  Also a spicy finish that is more than runout enough to make you want to hesitate, which you can’t afford to do if you’re redlining.  

The first section climbs a technical seam that is easy to do inefficiently enough that you’ll regret it later.  Upon exiting the seam, you are rewarded with a good crimp rail…but no feet.  Some high-stepping through a sea of half pad crimps will bring you to a large, but slightly sloping flat hold (from now on referred to as “Biggie Flatz”).  From there, most of the holds are at least a full pad, but the moves between them get long, and the final move involves a pretty committing pop to a good knob that is always further back than I’m expecting it to be.  

Photo: Jaron Moss

After grabbing lots of quick draws and battling beastly rope drag (please sling the cam at the roof longer than you want to!!!) I finally made it to the top.  My next go went decidedly better.  I made it through the 4 bolts in the seam feeling pretty good…but then I hit the section with bad feet and all the gas ran out of my tank.  I then proceeded to go bolt to bolt the rest of the way up.  When my turn to climb came around again, I was still so exhausted and my tips were so raw that I opted to toprope, in case I needed to pull through any of the sections to get to the top.  By the end of Day 1 I was certain I wanted to send this rock climb, but had no idea if I had anywhere close to the fitness required to do it any time soon.

If I’m being completely honest, my psych wasn’t exactly high going into Day 2.  I felt wrecked after Day 1, and was not looking forward to enduring that hike again.  But Day 2 proved to be extremely profitable.  I didn’t send, but perhaps a send was closer than I originally thought.  I’d increased my previous high point by almost 2 bolts, linked the last couple of bolts, AND found better crux beta.  We managed to get down the most dangerous parts of the gully before night fell and we had to don our headlamps, and only got lost once (thanks to Paschal and Howie for redirecting us!)  

Photo: Bryan Miller

I spent all of the next week stalking the weather forecasts.  When it became obvious that most of Saturday at the NRG would be below freezing, once again my gracious hubby suggested I get back out to the Bald.  I hiked in on Saturday knowing that this would pretty much have to be the day, as I knew once the holiday craziness set in it would be difficult to 1) keep my fitness up, while 2) finding a good weather window that coincided with being able to climb sans kids.

My warm-up run on Day 3 was less than awe-inspiring.  For the first time ever I fell in the awkward bit just after the first bolt, more awkward now than before due to the fact that we had trundled an extremely loose basketball sized jug off the week before.  I then proceeded to fall after the seam, just like I usually do.  I hung on most the bolts after that, but once I clipped the chains, I lowered to bolt 7 and went from Biggie Flatz all the way to the top.  Granted that part was just on TR, but it felt good to link all that together, as well as get a glimpse of what the runout at the finish would feel like carrying some pump with me.  

Send captured by Jaron Moss

At this point, I knew I had a chance, but it would come down to pump management.  Due to the lack of good rest stances, I would have to execute every piece of beta correctly and without hesitation.  So on my 2nd attempt of the day, I climbed as quickly as I could through the seam, then got one shake out of each hand as I shuffled through the bad feet section.  That was enough to get me through the place I usually fell at, and I was able to get another shake per hand by squatting low at the next clipping hold, right before the crux.  My newfound crux beta went according to plan, and as I was grabbing another couple of shakes (and trying to control my Elvis leg) at Biggie Flatz, I suddenly realized I was getting more back than I’d expected.  I wasn’t sure I could make it to the top, but I told myself I could at least make it to the next bolt.  Then at the next bolt I told myself the same thing.  At the bolt after that, I realized that I only had one more bolt left to clip before the finish.  The only choice now was to just keep rolling, so after a couple of deep breaths and a “watch me” to my belayer, I took off for the chains…and sent!  Woohoo!  

Some routes are all about “try hard”, whereas others are more about “try smart.”  What makes Spry Look such a monster is that it requires a good dose of both – figuring out the most efficient beta, so that you can use your “try hard” sparingly enough to last you all the way to the chains.  (Side note: I love this topic, more on trying hard AND smart in the archives here.)

So what’s the grade?  Hard to say, because while there may not be any individual sequences harder than 11+/12-, putting them all together felt a heck of a lot harder than 12b to me.  And really, who cares, because it’s freakin’ awesome!  Here’s my thoughts.  If you climb hard 11’s…you should get on this route.  You may surprise yourself, because there are no stopper moves on it!  If you climb 5.12..for sure this is a worthy opponent, and it’s a great route for fitness training.  And if you wanna onsight?  Better bring your 5.13 game, because there’s nowhere to hide from that pump!  

Many thanks to Bryan Miller and Jaron Moss for all the photos…such an awesome souvenir to have from this epic adventure!  


This Just In – Conditions Matter…A LOT!!!!!

Were you aware of that?  You probably were.  For some reason, I’d forgotten.  Maybe because it’s been so long since I’ve touched rock as dry and crisp as it was this past Saturday.  Or maybe because I’d never experienced such a direct one to one comparison before on such a hard route.  But before I get ahead of myself, let’s rewind it back a few months to where this story actually begins.  

I initially got on Death by Chocolate partly because it looked kinda cool and mostly because it was the only thing dry over Memorial Day.  Then, as usual with a good rock climb, I got sucked in.  I worked it hard right up until a few days before we left for Ten Sleep, before finally conceding to the summer heat.  At that time I would have told you the powerful crux sequence contained the hardest moves I’d ever successfully been able to do on a rope.  My wingspan wasn’t long enough to do the crux the most obvious way, and the only beta that worked for me involved using a bad sloping pinch in combo with a desperate toe hook to fight a seemingly hopeless barn door at full extension.

That left hand…on a previous, significantly warmer day.

I had every other move on lock down – technical crimps down low, check.  Exciting and insecure finish, check.  But after 6 days and 20+ tries on it, I just couldn’t keep the barn door closed mid-crux when I was on point.  My success rate on those moves was probably around 20%.  Not great odds, especially for a route featuring such skin-shredding holds.  

I had several reasons for wanting to get ‘er done before Ten Sleep.  Obviously, it would have been a great confidence boost going into my trip.  And sending “now rather than later” meant coming into fall with no loose ends to tie up.  But mostly, it was because I knew if I waited til fall came around, I wouldn’t care about it as much.  It is, after all, just a piece of rock, and I knew once a couple of months went by, I wouldn’t feel nearly as intensely about it as I did then.  My motivation level is very emotion-based, and I had a feeling that if I didn’t tick it then, I wouldn’t want to summon all the effort to work it again another time, and would instead opt to move on to other stuff.  Especially since CragDaddy had already sent, and we really enjoy working on projects together.  So when it didn’t go down, I chalked it up to just being the one that got away.  

But somehow in the 4 days between the events in this post and the event’s of my last post, climbing conditions had gone from summer to winter.  We literally went from tanks and shorts straight into puffy jackets.  The previous week’s high was 85…and this past weekend I’m not sure it ever got above 45.  

Due to the potential rain that was forecasted in conjunction with the low temps, we opted for Hidden Valley over the New.  And since I didn’t have anything else “in the hopper” so to speak at Hidden Valley, I’d told myself that if I felt good, I would give Death by Chocolate another whirl just for kicks.  Then if it still didn’t feel any closer, I could move on and forget about it for a while.  Now while I’ve always been a big proponent of the “sun’s out, gun’s out” rule, I am NOT a fan of cold and dreary, which is how our first few hours of climbing began.  My toes got so cold on the warm-up I thought about declaring myself done for the day.  But climb number 2 required a little more effort, which heated my body up just enough that I could take note of how absolutely perfect the rock felt. 

Ah, there was that amazing friction that by this point has pretty much achieved unicorn status in the South.  Just like that, project time was here!  As we hiked over to the Chocolate Wall, clouds gave way to sun, and our whole crew just soaked up what it felt like to be rock climbers in October. 

Kiddos having fun in lots of layers


“Here we are again!” said my son cheerfully as he and his sister threw their packs down and went off in search of acorn caps, mushrooms, and cool leaves to make a fairy house over on the rocks at the base.  The line looked as intimidating as ever, and a big part of me just wanted to walk away.  I thought back to one of my favorite lines from The Dawn Wall, which I’d seen just a few days prior, when Kevin Jorgeson was in the midst of struggling with Pitch 15 after Tommy Caldwell had already sent.  “Everything was perfect, and I still couldn’t do it,” he had said authentically at what seemed like his lowest point on the wall.  I laughed to myself as I thought I would probably be saying the same thing at the end of the day.  But we were all there so I at least had to try, right?  (I mean, it worked out pretty well for Kevin in the end too, so why not?!?)  

Of course all of my tick marks were gone, so my first run up felt decidedly unsmooth as I struggled to find all the holds in the filtered sunshine and remember all the beta.  But when I got to the crux and made the big move to the sloping pinch, my hand stuck exactly where I put it, instead of sliding into place.  I was so surprised that I fell.  I pulled back on, ticked and brushed all the crux holds, and got back on.  The moves felt more doable than they ever had.  The finish, which had seemed so scary and “it won’t be over til I clip chains,” felt straightforward and I daresay almost casual.  Who had swapped out all these holds?!?  

Letting go of this right hand to catch a micro-crimp before opening up is the crux.

I lowered, letting a slight amount of optimism creep in, but not too much.  But when it was my turn again, lo and behold, I sent!  It was weird – no desperation, no try hard sounds, no exciting, go for it moments.  I just did the same beta I’d been doing all along, and this time it worked.  In that moment, everything came together in a completely anti-climactic way, as if the route was actually 5.10.  

It went down so easily I almost feel guilty claiming the grade.  Why on earth couldn’t I make that move last June?  Yet had I sent 3 months ago, I would have without a doubt said that for me personally, the crux on this route was substantially harder than anything I’d done before, despite being a slightly lower grade than my highest redpoint. 

While I suppose it’s possible that my power has improved some since my previous bouts with this route, I don’t think that can account for how drastically different the route felt this time around – I think it’s pretty obvious that conditions were the real star of the show here.  I’d always known that cold temps = sending time…but I don’t think I’d ever realized just how much of a difference it makes.  I guess because I generally don’t start trying anything hard until the weather is already pretty good, so I’ve never gotten a true comparison on something close to my limit.  Who wants to hop on a project when it’s hot outside?  Not me.  

So that said…is it 12d?!?  Looking just at Sunday’s performance, I’d say no way.  But looking at the sum total of work I’ve put into it, I’d say that it very well could be, and I managed to show up at just the right place and right time to pull it off.  Either way is good with me, I’m just happy I finally did it!  Cheers to hopefully more sending weather in the coming weeks!  Oh yeah, and if you’d like to check out the video, click here!