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

New Child Carrier! The Thule Sapling…

Evening picnic along the MST in Linville Gorge

Evening picnic along the MST in Linville Gorge

If you’ve ever done any sort of outdoor endeavor that required gear, you’re probably familiar with Thule. From bike racks to kayak carriers, roof boxes to duffel bags, this company has been providing safe and easy ways to transport the gear we need and love for over 70 years.  So it just made sense when Thule announced their latest line of products to transport the most precious cargo of all – our kiddos!  The Thule Active with Kids line currently features child carriers, bike trailers, bike seats, and sport strollers.

After more than 5 years of almost constant use and abuse, our obsolete Kelty FC3 (reviewed here) has seen better days, so our family was pretty excited for the chance to try out the Sapling Child Carrier (and while the carrier was provided free for purposes of this review, all opinions expressed are our own!)

What was GREAT…

ADJUSTABILITY – This pack fits both hubby and I equally well, and it’s very simple to adjust both torso and waist back and forth between wearers.

WATER BOTTLE HOLDERS – The mesh water bottle pockets on either side are thoughtfully designed so that your thirsty passenger can reach them as well.

HYDRATION SYSTEM – A bladder is not included, but the Sapling is hydration system compatible.

SUN SHADE – The sun shade is obviously great for sun protection, but it also offers some added protection from tree limbs and leaves on trails that require a little bit of bushwhacking.  However, a really great feature about the Thule sunshade is that it packs down to a very compact size when not in use, as opposed to the bulky one on our Kelty.

LEG STIRRUPS – Although Baby Zu certainly doesn’t need them yet, leg stirrups will provide added comfort and support for her little legs once she’s older.

HIP POCKETS – On this pack the waistbelt pockets are a size that can actually fit something other than a small key!  I put my phone on one side, and a bag of hiking bears on the other.

Happy as a lark riding with Daddy!

Happy as a lark riding with Daddy!

What was NOT SO GREAT…

STORAGE – To be fair, our Kelty Carrier was the premium model, and our new Thule is the basic model, so we aren’t necessarily comparing apples to apples.  The Sapling Elite appears to have similar storage capacity to our Kelty.  That being said, we still manage to (baaaarely) squeeze in a day’s worth of food/water for both mom, dad, and toddler, as well as diapers, sunscreen, and a small blanket.  Our camera case easily clips onto the outside of the pack, but if Big C wasn’t carrying in his own pack at this point, it would be wishful thinking trying to get everything in.

Sleepy girl...

Sleepy girl…

NO MIRROR – Another apples to oranges issue, we REALLY liked the child-viewing mirror on the straps of our Kelty, but this is only available in the Elite model of the Sapling.

Overall, we’re pretty psyched about the Sapling, and from the looks of things, our own little sapling is pretty excited about it too!  We haven’t had it for very long, but if it’s like any of our other many Thule products, I don’t think durability will be an issue.  We would definitely recommend this to any new parents out there looking to adventure with the kiddos.

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Gettin’ High Off the Ground in Linville Gorge

Looks like a good picnic spot to me!

Looks like a good picnic spot to me!

This past weekend our family did an overnight in the Linville Gorge.  If you’ve never been to the Linville Gorge, it’s pretty spectacular!  If you like being outside at all, you will fall in love with this place, as it is top-notch at pretty much whatever outdoor endeavor you like.  On this particular occasion, we had planned a 24 hour quickie of hiking, climbing, camping, and lazing around in the hammock.  Thankfully it’s only a couple of hours from our house, and we arrived on Friday evening a little bit after 6 – just enough time for a short hike/picnic along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, per Big C’s request.

We camped at Hawksbill, and woke up to a gorgeous morning.  Our climbing partners were day-tripping and wouldn’t be there until 10 am, so after a leisurely breakfast, we got the jump on the approach hike.  While only 1.1 miles, it’s rather grueling, especially for 5 year old legs.  It’s relentlessly uphill for a mile…then 3rd class scrambling down a gully for several hundred feet.  At the climber’s turnoff, Big C and I dropped our packs and scampered up the additional 5 minutes to the summit.  It was a clear day, and we were rewarded with amazing views!  Big C wanted to know the name of every mountain, ridge, and cliffline as far as the eye could see, then after a bit of rock hopping fun, we headed back down and continued our approach.

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The only real agenda on the day was for Crag-Daddy Steve to send Hard Rock Cafe (5.12c).  It had been one of my main objectives during the spring season, and he’d gotten sucked into it last time we were out there.  Since I’d already done that one, and anything “next” on the list there would involve powerful cranking off small razor blades, I took the opportunity to save my skin and exercise my will power instead.  (I’m currently smack dab in the middle of a hangboarding phase in prep for our Ten Sleep trip coming up in August, which means I’m supposed to be taking it easy on the fingers.)  I got in on the warm-up (If You Bolt It, They Will Come 5.10a), made a half-assed attempt at Manifest Destiny (5.12c), and then took my harness off and hammocked with the kiddos.  Unfortunately Steve didn’t send and we’ll have to come back another time…which is fine by me, because there is a stack of routes down there I’d love to get on when I’m psyched to try hard!

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Had our day ended there I would have been satisfied with a great day outside with friends and family.   But my personal highlight came unexpectedly at the end of the day.  My friend Sam was itching to get in another couple of pitches, and had his eye on the traditional classic, Lost in Space (5.10b.)  His partner wasn’t up for it, so he dangled the carrot in front of me – leading, following, whatever I wanted, as he had done it already and just wanted to get on it again.  The Crag-Daddy pointed out that if he hiked out with both kiddos at a 5 year old pace, and Sam and I got started right away, we could probably finish, walk off, and make it back to the parking lot before the kids started going crazy.  After all, Baby Zu had taken a great afternoon nap, and the area around the parking lot was a great place for curious hands and feet to pass the time away.

Breathtaking views at the top of Hawksbill Mountain!

Breathtaking views at the top of Hawksbill Mountain!

And with that we were off!  As I headed up the gully to the base of the route, I felt giddy with excitement…and also a little nervous.  Pre-kiddos, Steve and I did a lot of multi-pitch climbing.  And while I’ve since been dabbling in enough trad climbing to remain competent in my gear placing skills, it’s been years since I’ve brought a second up (our Vegas getaway in 2012.)  And not to mention I can’t even remember the last time I built a gear anchor.

One of my favorite hiking partners!

One of my favorite hiking partners!

I didn’t know a thing about Lost in Space (other than the obligatory photo opp at the start of pitch 2 that everyone always posts on facebook.)  But I sure as heck knew I wasn’t going to let the chance to flash such a classic money pitch slip out of my fingers.  Sam was kind enough to let me use his gear, and gave me some beta on the post-crux piece as well as what to save for the anchor (the latter probably being more for his own benefit than mine ;) ).

 

The first pitch was decent, but definitely just the way to get up to the goodness above.  A slab and a lieback corner later and we were both at the belay, staring down the roof of pitch 2.  I was pretty darn intimidated (“It’s 5.10. It’s 5.10.  It’s 5.10″, I kept telling myself.)  I crawled out under the roof, placed a piece, and got my hands on the jug at the lip of the roof.  It’s a looooong move to the next horizontal.  I hemmed and hawed up and down for at least 10 minutes, unable to commit.  I eventually realized that I could place a piece at the lip, making the fall about a zillion times better, and committed straightaway.  (For the record, the move felt pretty darn hard for 5.10…maybe it would feel easier 10 feet off the deck instead of 100…)  The rest of the pitch was a casual romp up a corner system to the “almost” top.  I kept looking back, savoring the exposure, and at one point realized I had a ridiculous perma-grin on my face.  It was over all too soon!  I brought Sam up, we scrambled around to the trail, grabbed our packs, and sprinted back to the cars.

The infamous photo opp on the crux pitch!

The infamous photo opp on the crux pitch!

A random 2 pitch climb might not seem like that big of a deal to folks without young children…but for me it was such a special treat!  I realized it had been so long that I’d almost forgotten what that sort of adventure tasted like.  It will still be a pretty long while before the Crag-Daddy and I are able to get high off the ground together, but that romp up Lost in Space was a great reminder that the rock will still be there when we are ready.  (And the adventures will be twice as amazing…and maybe even triple or quadruple, if the kids decide they want in on it!!!)

I’m grateful for that impromptu opportunity, as it was refreshing for my soul.  But for now, it’s back to more grounded family adventures…which are just as exhilarating, though in a different kind of way!

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A Family Sunday “SEND-day” at Kaymoor

Happy child in the dirt.

Happy child in the dirt.

Our good luck with good climbing conditions has fortunately continued into late spring (which probably means we’ll be smothered by a hot blanket of humidity any day now.)  And while 80’s may not be ideal sending temps, the weather felt darn near perfect for June in the Southeast…so off to the New we went!

We decided to climb in the shade at Kaymoor on Day 1.  Steve was psyched to work Lost Souls (5.12a), and I figured it was probably about time for me to give that one another try.  I’d been on it several times before Baby Zu (most notably of which was during the NRG Craggin’ Classic back in 2012 for some Trango photos), and it never went particularly well.

For those not familiar with this classic, it’s one of those that gets the grade based on linking the sum of its parts rather than individual moves.  There are 3 cruxes, all of which are giant jug to jug tosses.  Very straightforward, and the very definition of power endurance.  It’s a very common “first 5.12″ since none of the individual moves are that “hard” compared to other similarly graded routes in the area (ie, anything Endless Wall.)  So if you are a tall climber that loves gymnastic movement, get out there ASAP for an easy send!  If you are vertically-challenged and/or lean towards more technical climbs…you should still get on it because it’s awesome!  (But bring your “try hard” pants and be ready to launch!)

Happy, dirty, child #2

Happy child in the hammock.

The Crag-Daddy (Steve) went up first and managed a one-hang even while hanging draws, so things were looking pretty good for him.  My first run, however, was dismal.  I started hanging before the 1st bolt, and struggled on just about every move.  My performance was so ridiculously bad that I almost didn’t get on it again.  However, of late I’ve been surprising myself on the 2nd go, so I thought I’d give it at least one more burn.

Steve made it through all 3 cruxes on his second go!  And also his 3rd and 4th go…unfortunately the pump factor kept spitting him off literally one move away from the no hands rest at the end of the traverse!  My 2nd go was decidedly better than the 1st – I did the 1st crux clean, and the 2nd and 3rd cruxes only took a couple of tries.  My 3rd go was even more progress – just one fall each at the 2nd and 3rd cruxes.

I was definitely in better spirits by that point, but still unsure whether I had a send in me or not.  I had crazy shortie beta for the 2nd crux, and I had never been able to link it with ANY of the previous moves, let alone coming in hot on a redpoint run.  Steve convinced me to give it one more try,, and I shocked myself with an almost send!  I made it clean all the way through to the last toss.  I had the distance…but my arms were so pumped that I couldn’t open my hand in time to latch the jug, and I ended up bashing my knuckles into the wall (FYI we refer to that phenomenon as “T-Rexing…”).

Flying feet on big move #1

Flying feet on big move #1

I was disappointed I didn’t send, but thrilled to know that my beta was solid.  It was the first time I actually believed that the route could go at the current fitness level I was at, rather than always thinking “Come back when you’re stronger.”  But lucky for us the whole crew had unfinished business at Kaymoor, so it was a no-brainer to come back the next day.

I did everything I could think of that night to maximize recovery – good food, lots of water, Arm-aid, finger acupressure, yoga, and as much sleep as I could muster in a tent with a 15 month old that hates sleeping.

Shortie undercling beta for Big Move #2

Shortie undercling beta for Big Move #2

Sunday dawned a little bit warmer, but the rock still felt surprisingly crisp.  Steve was up first and sailed through the first three cruxes yet again…but YET AGAIN fell inches before the rest!  I was feeling good, but not at all like a send was a sure thing, as any of the cruxes could easily spit me off if I didn’t execute them perfectly. But thankfully my first go of the day was my last – my beta worked, and the send was mine!  (And Steve sent next go as well, which made for a happy ride home for the whole family.)

One big, happy family!

One big, happy family!

After Lost Souls, there was still plenty of time left to climb, so I rounded out my day with Hardcore Female Thrash (5.11c) and Boing (5.10d).  Hardcore Female Thrash is a one move wonder that moves up a very cool dihedral feature (took 2 tries for the send), and Boing is a high-steppin’ slab climb.  Both are fantastic lines that are definitely worth hopping on if you find yourself in the area.

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How to Make Reachy Moves

Stretching tall on Techman 5.12c at the New River Gorge

Stretching tall on Techman 5.12c at the New River Gorge

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been shut down by a crux sequence because of a hold that is juuuuust out of reach.  Unless you are 7 feet tall, most of us should have our hands up at this point.  While it’s probably safe to say that a climber who is 5 feet tall probably deals with this more than one who is 6 feet tall, learning how to make long reaches is a skill that can benefit all climbers.

Standing at 5’5″ tall, I’m certainly not short by female standards (average height for adult American female is 5’4″), although since I often end up climbing with a bunch of guys, it can sometimes feel that way.  Very rarely is my beta the same as my male counterparts.  And since one of my “home” crags is the New River Gorge, which is notorious for giant expanses of featureless rock in between holds, I’ve had to really get creative sometimes to be able to hit that hold that looks (and feels) miles away.  Thankfully, there are actually a lot of really good techniques that, when performed correctly, can literally add inches to your reach! So the next time you are shut down at a reachy move, don’t automatically break out the bail biner – ask yourselves these questions first!

1.  Can you move dynamically?  Dynamic movement isn’t always (or even usually) the wild, all points of contact off hail mary dyno to the glory jug.  A lot of times, just using a little bit of momentum is all it takes to bring a faraway hold into reach.  (That, and a little bit of commitment, because the more momentum you use, the less likely you are to be able to reverse the move if it doesn’t work out!)  But if your fall zone is safe, don’t be afraid to launch a little bit, especially if the hold you are going for is good!

While this sort of movement might seem more difficult at first, especially if you’re not accustomed to it, moving dynamically is often more efficient than a long, static reach, so if you are starting to feel the pump, this is probably your best bet!  If the hold is not very good, or the distance too great, look around and move to the next questions…

2.  Can you get your feet up?  Footholds are often the great equalizer of cruxes.  Often times my 6’1″ hubby and I end up making the exact same move, but using different feet.  Sometimes the move is easier for him because he can go off of the “good feet.”  Other times, however, a long move is actually easier for me because the best footholds are too high for him to use.  If there are no additional footholds, try just smearing your feet and seeing what happens.  If you are struggling, look for a way to get one foot up.  Close, but still not there?  Try and get BOTH feet up, then pop!

Feet up...

Feet up…

...and POP!

…and POP!

3.  Are there any intermediate holds?  Small, intermediate holds also have a way of leveling the playing field.  Generally speaking, small climbers tend to have smaller hands, and smaller hands often have an easier time using smaller holds.  A lot of times you won’t even have to really crank on an intermediate hold, but perhaps just use it to reset your feet before bumping up to the better hold.

4.  Can you undercling?  Finding a way to stand tall into an undercling (or turn an existing down-pulling hold into an undercling midway through the move) is a great way to go-go gadget your arms.  Add high feet to the equation, and you can literally measure the increase in reach by the foot!

Utilizing every inch on Flash Point 5.11d

Utilizing every inch on Flash Point 5.11d

5.  Can you press out at the end of your lockoff?  If you are pulling for all your worth and your arm is locked off as deep as you can go, try to change the angle of your hand so that rather than pulling down, you are pressing out, as in a mantle move.

But if you find yourself hand/foot matched and pressed out from fingertip to fingertip and STILL can’t reach, there is ONE other strategy to employ that might latch the hold…

6.  DON’T LOOK!  Seriously, just look away.  Set up as best you can for the move, reach up, and then look DOWN, not up.  The act of looking down will actually get your head “out of the way” so that you can press even closer to the wall.  It won’t give you much, but sometimes all you need is a quarter of an inch or so!  (My friend Mark Pell was actually the person that shared this tip with me, and although I’ve only used it once, I know for a fact it made a difference!)

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From Farm to Table – Strawberry Season!

Stoked to be at Hall Family Farm!

Stoked to be at Hall Family Farm!

When it comes to local eating, strawberry season is my favorite time of year (although autumn apples are pretty high on the list as well…)  So much delicious goodness from such a beautiful little berry!  The past few weeks have been a yummy blur of picking, eating, and experimenting in the kitchen.  Some of our results were gobbled up right away, others got tossed into the deep freeze for later.  Below are our favorite ways to take advantage of the strawberry season.

Strawberry Chia Freezer Jam

This is seriously the bomb, ya’ll!  And the best part about it is that we’ll be able to resurrect it come December when we are all yearning for a taste of summer!  As far as jam goes, I made this one pretty low sugar – a little over 1/2 cup for 5 cups of berries.  Simmer on the stove to let the juices run, then toss in 1/4 cup of chia seeds along with lemon zest and juice (I used just under 1/2 a lemon.)  I used a stick blender to puree it (the chia seeds still gave it plenty of good texture), then poured everything into mason jars after about 15 minutes when it got nice and thick.  YUM!!!

Strawberry Lemonade Sorbet

My neighbor let us experiment with her ice cream maker…and all I can say is WOW!  We made the most brightest, most intense sorbet I’d ever had.  For a crisp, refreshing dessert that has a lot of good-for-you in it, this is the ticket!  Best part was no weird ingredients, just strawberries, lemon juice, and a little sugar (I’m starting to notice a theme with ingredients here.)

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Dried Strawberries

This was so easy to do that it can hardly be called a “recipe”, but they were so good that I have to mention it.  All we did was chop up some berries, spread them out on parchment paper, and dry them out in the oven for a few hours….and voila!  The only problem was that out of two trays of berries, the yield was only about a cup.  Not so great in the efficiency department, but they were as tasty as candy!

On our list of yet to try is some sort of strawberry cobbler/pie and fruit leather.  If anyone has any favorite recipes they’d be willing to share, we’d love to hear ‘em!

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