Though my spring climbing season got off to a slow-ish start, these last few weeks have been unseasonably cool, and have allowed me to string together some hard (for me!) sends. Since the CragDaddy had spent most of the previous week in NY on business, our family opted for the day trip this past weekend. After accumulating some sending momentum at the Red the week before,I was psyched and ready to try hard on my project at Hawksbill Mountain.
Eyeing down the mail slot to clip the next bolt from. Photo: Joe Virtanen
I wrote about Tips Ahoy 12d a couple of weeks ago , when I hopped on it while a friend of mine was working it. I’d given it 3 burns, and was pleasantly surprised at how doable it seemed. It plays to my strengths (technical climbing on tiny holds), without featuring any of my glaring weaknesses (of which there are many, but the usual culprits involve slopers and big moves on steep rock!) Anyway, going in I was cautiously optimistic about my chances. In contrast to the 100 foot monsters I’d been battling at the Red, this line was only about 60 feet tall, which (hopefully) would mean that endurance wouldn’t be a problem. Additionally, the weather could not have been any more perfect – temps were in the upper 40’s/low 50’s most of the day (yes 40’s at the end of May!), and the wall wouldn’t even see the sun until some time after lunch.
Crimping hard on one of the few holds big enough to match on the entire route.
For me, the crux boils down to two moves – a precision stab to a pointy crimp off of two tiny razor blades, then a foot shuffle and long lock off to another pointy crimp. There’s also a clip that needs to happen at some point from either one of the pointy crimps. In isolation, the first move is substantially harder than the second move. But for whatever reason, going into the second move directly after completing the first move feels darn near impossible. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever successfully made both moves without falling between. Such. A. Long. Lockoff. Control is the key here, as moving dynamically to either hold will result in shredded fingertips pretty quickly…but practicing the moves over and over and over and over again to gain the muscle memory is a gamble with the skin as well.
After a quick warm-up a little further down the wall, I took a lap to get the draws hung on Tips Ahoy. When I touched the two razor blades, I knew it was going to be a good day. Not only did the holds feel crisp, but my fingers felt a lot stronger! (thanks, 4×4’s!) My confidence grew, and I finished the route bolt-to-bolt without much issue.
Funny how the whole wall looks completely devoid of holds…but theyre there! They arent big, but theyre there!
My next go was a send that happened so fast it was almost a blur! The first few bolts went off without a hitch. I made the first move of the crux, shuffled my feet around, and made the next move for the first time ever in succession. I almost punted off initiating the traverse, but managed to stay on, then almost biffed AGAIN a few moves later, but once again, still on. At this point my fingers were so cold that they were completely numb, but there are exactly zero holds big enough for anything to stop and shake out on, so all I could do was keep climbing, and trust my muscle memory on the last 5.11 crimp ladder. Before I knew it I had clipped the chains and was back on the ground. Tips Ahoy = DONE! Woo-hoo!!!
And with that, it looks like spring climbing season has drawn to a close. This weekend’s forecast is definitely of the summer variety, which means a lot more sweat and a lot less sending! (But hopefully just as much fun!)
The CragDaddy and Baby Zu graciously agreed to run support for Big C and I. they dropped us off at the put in, and as we paddled along, they hiked alongside the river on the Canal Trail towards the overlook. To be honest, I was a little bit nervous…I’ve only kayaked once since Baby Zu was born, and that was just in a local pond. While this section of the river was not that fast, there were a few Class 1 rapids, and lots of rocks and shallow water. I’d also heard rumors that finding the take out point can be a little tricky.
Thankfully, everything was a LOT easier than I was expecting…and Big C LOVED every minute of it. Paddling amongst all the flowers gave us a far better perspective than just viewing them from the overlook. (Although his favorite part was bouncing around in the boat during the little mini-rapids!) Turns out the take out point was very well-marked, and after pulling our boat ashore, we only had to wait about 15 minutes before our “support team” drove by to pick us up.
A picnic dinner and quick frolic in the river was a perfect way to end a near-perfect Mother’s Day outing!
Recently I was contacted by the makers of Epic Wipes, a brand new kickstarter company that is making a product that EVERY outdoor family needs to have on hand. We’ve had these wipes with us all spring – camping, climbing, beach-ing, etc, and we’ve been pretty impressed with the results (cleaner, better-smelling children.) Here’s our take…
First off, these wipes are HU-NORMOUS (in case you are wondering, that is a combination of “huge” and “enormous”, a word made up by my 6 year old.) Seriously, these wipes are super-sized; a double layer that stretches out over 2 and a half feet! After a particularly dirty day out at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky, I was delighted to realize that both of my children went from looking like orphaned chimney sweepers to adorable little minions in a matter of minutes. More than enough to clean an entire grown-up body.
Too bad this picture was taken before we knew about Epic Wipes! 800 baby wipes later, it was still a dirty car ride home!
Yet unbelievably, the entire thing packs down to about the size of a Clif Bar. That means you can hide a stash of them just about anywhere – car, backpack, bike panniers, etc.
My only complaint is that since they are SO big, we don’t always use the entire thing, so a resealable packaging would be nice. (That being said, we had pretty good results resealing an barely used one in a ziploc bag once.)
…Luckily, we had some on hand for this trip to the Red River Gorge. This much fun requires wipes of epic proportions!
Trust me, these wipes are awesome – 10x better than regular old wipes. And they will be available to the public SOON. In fact, there kickstarter campaign is launching TODAY – you can check it out here and get more info. Once the campaign is over, the wipes will be available for purchase on Amazon. But for ONE lucky Cragmama reader, a free box of wipes will be headed your way in about a week!
To enter all you need to do is fill out the Rafflecopter widget below. Don’t forget to leave a comment about what scenario you would be most likely to use Epic Wipes! Contest will run through midnight on Thursday, May 26th. Best of luck!
“Some weekends everything falls together and you send. Other times you work your ass off and walk away empty-handed. But those “work” weekends are what make the “sending” weekends so magical.”
Those were my words exactly one month ago, after a hard-fought battle with Jesus and Tequila 12b, one of my (many) unsent projects from the New River Gorge last fall. The “moral” of that post was that investing hard work into a project will EVENTUALLY reap successful dividends, even if you currently have nothing “on paper” to show for it. That particular weekend was a “work” weekend. So was the next one, this time on a new project at Hawksbill Mountain. Both trips sparked a flurry of training in the gym – 4X4’s, roped intervals, core workouts, etc. All in preparation for one of those “sending” weekends at some point down the road…
Creeping out of the hueco on Mirage 12c
…which apparently was this past weekend at the Red! I’m not sure whether it was the training, the SPECTACULAR spring weather conditions, or just a little bit of luck falling in my favor (probably a combination of the 3), but I just enjoyed what was probably one of my strongest climbing weekends ever…and days later I’m still finding my lips poised in a perma-grin.
70 feet down, 30 to go! Trying to deflate my forearms in the upper hueco on Mirage.
I drove up to Kentucky with one goal in mind: Galunlati 12b, a route I’d gotten on at the very end of our trip there this past April. I drove home on Sunday with THREE 5.12 ticks, one of which very well might be the hardest route I’ve ever sent. Here’s how it all went down:
It’s red eft season in the Southeast!
Galunlati 12b: 95 feet of awesomeness. Tricky, technical crux down low, with a pumpy traverse on crimps halfway up. No huecos to hop in, but I did find a decent kneebar to rest up before the last 30 feet of 5.10 jugs. To save time, (at a premium with 4 climbers and two kids), I warmed up by going bolt to bolt…and it did NOT go well, probably because I should NOT be warming up on 5.12. But I got the draws in and got to rehearse my beta. Second go the crux felt way easier, but I botched the end of the traverse and fell. I figured out a better sequence, and my third go was the charm (and send.)
Mirage 12c: 95 feet of even more awesomeness. I’d wrapped up Galunlati with enough time to do one more route on Day 1, and my friend Bennett had suggested this one. He’d just sent, and I figured I had nothing to lose since the draws were still up. The climbing turns on at the 2nd bolt while exiting a big hueco, and does not relent until the 5th bolt. The moves out of the hueco are precarious and balancy, and the bolt is a lot lower than you’d like it to be, which makes for an exciting combo rather low to the ground. In fact, my first time up, I actually climbed with the 3rd bolt already clipped so I could work out the moves fear-free. The next moves are equally tenuous, as well as the next clip. The crux comes next, between bolts 4 and 5, a deadpoint move to the first decent-sized hold in about 20 feet. After that, a few more pulls on small, but positive holds leads into a hueco you can lay down in. The climbing post-hueco is a lot easier – probably no harder than 10a/b, but the angle is still pretty darn steep, and the route keeps going for another 30-40 feet or so. I was super stoked to get to the top, and very excited to add this one to my tick list for the fall season.
The CragDaddy getting oh-so-close on Abiyoyo 12b
But as luck would have it, our crew ended up back at the Solarium again on Day 2. Since my “warm up on the project” strategy had been successful the day before, I decided to stick with that. I struggled on the deadpoint move. There are a lot of ways to do it, but each seemed ridiculously hard to do when I was pumped, as I most certainly would be on a redpoint run. I worked the moves for a while until I had to come down out of sheer exhaustion.
A post-dinner hike to the Natural Arch
I wasn’t feeling that optimistic for a send on my 2nd go of the day…I knew I could do the moves, but stringing them all together seemed like an impossible feat. Not to mention that scary clip at bolt 3. But I tried hard, and actually didn’t fall until the deadpoint move. I hung, tweaked the beta, and took it to the top.
I waited a good long time before trying it again, cheering on the CragDaddy as he worked Abiyoyo 12b, and sprayed (solicited) beta at our newfound friends from Colorado as they took their turns on Mirage. When I tied in again, I wasn’t at all confident that I’d even have enough gas to make it to my previous high point. But before I knew it, I was there…and this time I executed my beta correctly and latched the deadpoint! I came really close to punting off in the next section, but somehow managed to slide into the hueco with forearms flaming.
I stayed in the hueco until my neck just couldn’t take it anymore…then I moved up into the kneebar to shake out a little more. The finish was not desperate, but it certainly wasn’t a sure thing. The pump clock was ticking faster and faster but I just kept moving as fast as I could until both chains were clipped. YAY!!!!!!!!!!! An unbelievably amazing (and unexpected!) send for me!
Crossing the creek at Miller Fork.
On our last day, we decided to check out Miller Fork, a new-ish area that has recently come out with a new guidebook. It was fun to try a new place, and the routes we got on were good…but the rock quality seemed inconsistent. The routes we did were all great, but will probably be even better in a few years after more traffic cleans them up a bit.
Weird Science 12a: This vertical climb was perfect for Day 3 – thin boulder problem down low to moderate climbing. Very un-Red like (ie, no guns required, just technique), but the neon orange lichen only visible from the top made it worth the effort.
Witness the Citrus 11c: Also worth mentioning was this monster of a climb. 100+ feet of pure jug haulin’ fun! Definitely 5 stars!
Climbing can be a very fickle sport. I’ve learned that having the physical and mental fitness for a certain route is really only a small piece of the puzzle to success. Sometimes the real crux is having that perfect weather window occur on the days you are actually free to climb, rather than days you are stuck in the office/house/etc. (And finding someone else that wants to climb at the same area you want to climb at!) Fortunately for me, all the stars aligned and everything worked in my favor this time. And with imminent summer heat and humidity on the way, I’m going to savor every minute of this “sending feast” while I still can, knowing the famine is just around the corner! (And, right on cue, the forecast for THIS Saturday looks pretty dismal…) 😉
For our family, the month of May marks perfect sending conditions at one of our favorite crags – Hawksbill Mountain in the Linville Gorge. The sending season here is short – if you come in April your hands will for sure numb out due to a frigid combination of chilly temps, shady rock, and brutal wind gusts. But if you wait much past early June, the humidity makes for pretty manky crux holds, especially by late afternoon once the sun comes around.
Although we can be at the crag parking lot in 2 hours flat, the hike is pretty intense, especially with the kiddos…a relentless uphill slog for 30-40 minutes, followed by a rocky scramble down a rhododendron-laden gully for another 20 minutes or so. Once your down there, the cliff base is rocky, with very few flat areas, which makes chasing after a climbing toddler even more stressful (and tiresome) than usual. All that said, despite the fact that we love the climbing here, we tend to only hit this area a time or two each year.
The New Proj: Tips Ahoy 12d
But after this past weekend’s excursion, I’m hoping that we can start to change that. As opposed to previous years where the approach took over an hour (and about a pound of hiking bears), Big C dominated the hike on Saturday. He even said his favorite part was scrambling up and down the gully. Apparently 6 year old legs ARE stronger and longer than 5 year old ones!
Blooming rhodos made for a beautiful approach!
The great part about Hawksbill is that there are a whole hosts of routes that are in a good project range for the CragDaddy and I. On the 5.12 wall, the only route either of us has sent has been Hard Rock Cafe 12c (and congratulations to the CragDaddy on the send this past weekend!) As for me, I am now completely invested in a new route obsession – Tips Ahoy 12d. Grade-wise it’s a little harder than some of the other lines on the wall, but I’d been told by more than one person that this one would be a good one for me to try. Apparently, it’s more sustained than the other lines, but the moves are not quite as big. Add that to the fact that my friend Drew already had the draws up, and hopping on it was a no-brainer!
My first attempt I opted to toprope it. I’d never led 12d before, and that pre-hung rope was just too tempting to pass up! The initial moves were hard but I actually made it through clean – long NRG-style lock0ffs to small but positive edges. Then came the crux – getting paired up on two tiny razor blades to make a toss to a sharp, pointy crimp, followed by another deep lockoff to another sharp crimp (as the name suggests, this route is not exactly easy on the finger tips.) I flailed around a LOT before finally settling on some beta that worked for me, but i got it figured out eventually. After the crux comes a traverse that is more technical than it is hard, followed by a ladder of crimps that, while significantly easier than the rest of the route, is still way to hard to be considered a “victory lap.”
Next I tackled the route on the sharp end – a big step for me, as I’d never led anything this difficult before. I was surprised at how good I felt. Everything was going great until I reached up to clip the 3rd bolt and realized that no matter how hard I tugged, no more rope was coming. I heard a bunch of commotion below me (which included a few choice words that I generally don’t like my children to hear), and saw my belayer desperately trying to pull my rope out from under a big rock. I managed to hang on long enough for things to get sorted, but sat on the rope immediately after getting the bolt clipped. I would LOVE to say that my first 12d would have gone down 2nd go had it not been for that incident…but I am 99.9% sure that I would have fallen at the crux. Stuff like that happens and is all part of the game – my belayer obviously felt really bad about it and apologized profusely…but if you are local, feel free to give Kurt Fischer hell next time you see him 😉
CragDaddy in sending mode on Hard Rock Cafe 12c
After the hang, I actually shocked myself by making the crux move 1st go, although I immediately rested before the traverse (the fall is clean, but I always have a hard time committing to traverses!) Once I started the traverse, I took it all the way to the top. Despite all the shenanigans I felt awesome about a two-hang, and was confident that while it might not be in the same day, a send was definitely attainable!
More spectacular wildflowers along the approach!
By the time my turn in the rotation came up again, my spirit was willing…but my flesh was obviously weak. I took a rather awkward but safe fall trying to hit the clipping hold for the 2nd bolt. On the crux holds my fingertips felt so raw that I imagined only a microscopically thin layer of skin was keeping them from becoming completely shredded. I limped my way through the crux, linking only a couple of moves at a time, and hobbled my way to the finish, after resting on the rope several more times along the way.
Part of me wishes I would have stopped while I was ahead at attempt #2, because I left the crag feeling more destroyed than confident. But I know the more mileage I get in on it, the better I’ll have it dialed. And I will not be able to send it unless I have the moves COMPLETELY dialed in, since there are pretty much zero rests on the entire route, save a stray shake here and there.
It feels great to be able to focus on something new. I realized I’ve spent most of the spring focused on unfinished business from the year before (ie Jesus and Tequila 12b.) Since I probably won’t be able to touch that one again til the fall, it is really nice to have something else on the horizon that could go soon.
I’m hoping to get another crack at it in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, it’s 4x4s in the gym, followed by a long weekend at the Red. Hopefully the weather will be more spring and less winter this time around!