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

Softstar Minimalist Sandals – A Review

Her gear testing methods are a bit unorthodox.

Caught red-handed with some unorthodox gear testing methods.

One thing you may not know about Baby Zu is that she is rather into shoes.  At least twice a day I catch her in our mud room camped out in a giant pile of shoes.  No matter how many times we organize the shoes, by the end of the day, they are scattered out around the house again.  They don’t even have to be hers.  In fact, she takes it upon herself regularly to make sure that everyone in the house has a pair of shoes available to them at arm’s reach.

So it only made sense to let this girl try out some shoes from Softstar, one of our family’s favorite brands for tiny feet.  This is actually the second time I’ve reviewed these shoes on this blog – back in 2013 Big C got to try out the Softstar Ramblers, reviewed here.  My little princess got to check out a pair of sandals from Softstar, and immediately fell in love with them.


It probably goes without saying that her favorite parts were the flowers, which she tried yanking off for 2 days straight before finally realizing they were attached.  As for me, I’m a fan of the way all Softstar shoes allow my kiddos’ feet to develop naturally – using a simple, minimalist design.  There is nothing bulky or stiff, and no molded footbeds.  These shoes provide what every growing foot needs – a thin layer of warmth and protection from harsh and potentially dangerous terrain (hot asphalt, broken glass, etc.), without hindering natural development.

If you are uneasy about getting the correct fit, the “elves” at Softstar have a nifty little size chart on their website.  Just print it out, and put those sweet little tootsies on the chart!  We were forewarned that the sandals tend to run a size bigger than the rest of the shoes, so we sized down.  The result was a perfect fit with just the right amount of growing room!

Soft Star has graciously offered to gift one lucky reader with a $30 gift card!  Entries are easy via the Rafflecopter widget below.  Leave a comment below about your fave brand of kiddo shoes for the first entry.  Multiple entries will be given by liking Cragmama and Soft Star on facebook as well.  Best of luck, and happy shoe-shopping!  Contest will run through June 1st.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


To All the Guy Climbers: A Rant and a Salute…

It was pretty crowded in the gym last Sunday.  The weather was crappy and there were a LOT of birthday parties going on.  I was patiently trying to maneuver through my fairly extensive warm-up routine before retreating to the training area to do some Power Enduro laps.  I was almost ready, just needed to do a handful of more challenging problems that I had really dialed.

There was already someone (a 20-something guy) working one of the boulder problems I was interested in doing.  He tried several times, and kept getting stuck at the crux, 3 moves in.  I waited until he took a break and stepped back, then I chalked up and walked over to the start of the problem.

Then this conversation happens…

Guy: “Are you going to do the white one?” (this problem that started right beside the problem I was intending to do, which happens to be 2 number grades easier)

Me: “Actually I was planning to get on the blue one.”

Guy, with a patronizing smile on his face: “That one’s a lot harder, you know.”

It actually took me a few seconds to understand what had just happened.  I was confused…why would he think I wouldn’t know that?!?  And then it hit me like a ton of bricks – I’M A GIRL.  If HE was struggling on a particular problem, then surely a GIRL would as well.  He’d better chivalrously point me in the direction of a problem I’d have a better chance of success at.

I wish I would have been quick-witted enough to procure my most innocent smile and say (as I twirl my hair), “Oh gee, I didn’t realize that, you’d recommend starting this one first?”  Then climb up and down the easier problem before linking into the harder one.  But I was so dumbfounded by how blatantly sexist his remark was that I just sort of awkwardly mumbled “I know” (probably sounding a little Napoleon Dynamite-esque) as I sat down at the start holds.  But I DID proceed to sail up the problem, so at least my actions spoke up for all womankind.

Girl power on Classic Arete at Dixon Boulders

Girl power on Classic Arete at Dixon Boulders

After I hopped down he started to backpedal a bit, asking me if I had any beta that could help him in the “tricky, technical section.”

This time I was ready.  “Ya know I don’t really remember what I did there, it all felt pretty straightforward to me.”

I then walked over to the training area, where I was able to channel all of my girl-powered rage into my best performance yet on my Power Enduro circuit.

So that’s the rant.

This is certainly not the first, nor will it be the last example of sexism at the climbing gym/crag.  I’m a member of several facebook groups/forums for women climbers, and quite often I hear stories about male climbers who assume that all female climbers are inexperienced little lambs needing a MAN to put up “girl routes” for them.  But I just assumed those guys were a**holes who were few and far between.

Which brings me to the salute.

I’m so thankful that I don’t have to put up with this crap out of my climbing crew.  Because our family has always had to have at least one extra partner with us for the last 5 years, we’ve developed a pretty extensive network of folks that we climb with on a regular basis.  And since males tend to outnumber females as a whole in the sport of rock climbing, a high percentage of the people we climb with end up being guys.  There’s a wide range of abilities, but a lot of them are A LOT stronger than me.  And I can honestly say that I’ve never had any of them make me feel like that guy at the gym did (which is why it took me so long to figure out what he meant!!!)

It made me realize that my male climbing partners are pretty great (the greatest of which is the Crag-Daddy himself, of course!)  So here’s a shout out to them – Steve Lineberry, Caleb Odell, Sam Stephens, Bennett Harris, Drew Hayes, Joe Virtanen, Kyle and Adam Drain, Emil Briggs, Chuck Bridgen just to name a few!

Now it’s your turn – I’d love to hear about your experiences with sexism at the crag/gym, be it via rants or salutes.  And of course, if you’ve got great, supportive climbing partners, call ‘em out by name!


Hidden Wall and a New Camera

This past weekend’s adventures were pretty low-key – a Saturday spent at Hidden Wall.  We started late, ended early, and kept things simple.  Our main objective actually was trying out the new camera we’d purchased the week before – a Sony Alpha a6000.  For years we’ve been pretty dissatisfied with our point and shoots, but we had a hard time justifying the bulk of a digital SLR in combination with all the other gear we have to carry into the crag.  But recently we’d been hearing a lot about the mirrorless system, which is a lot more compact.  So after reading up and talking up a few folks we know that have gone that way, we decided to go for it!

A sweet girl...

A sweet girl…

...who was SUPPOSED to be going to sleep!

…who was SUPPOSED to be going to sleep!

Now granted, we are far from professional photographers…BUT so far we are really happy with the results.  It came with a 16-50mm lens and we purchased a 55-210mm telephoto lens in addition.  While for sure bigger than a little point and shoot, the whole setup is still surprisingly compact.  It’s not any more inconvenient to hike into the crag, and while we obviously haven’t done it yet, dragging it up a multi-pitch seems reasonable as well.

Steve with some fancy footwork on Slabster's Lament (5.12a)

Steve with some fancy footwork on Slabster’s Lament (5.12a)

Slabster's Lament, mid-crux

Slabster’s Lament, mid-crux

Me heading left for Koma's Arete (5.11d)

Me heading left for Koma’s Arete (5.11d)

Ordinarily I wouldn’t warrant a trip report in order for such a casual day of local craggin’, but I was excited to share a few pics from the new camera.

My favorite part about this shot is the gleeful photobomber in the background

My favorite part about this shot is the gleeful photobomber in the background

My handsome, ragamuffin boy.

My handsome, ragamuffin boy.

I must admit, "Lord of the Flies" came to mind...

I must admit, “Lord of the Flies” came to mind…

Oh and you may have noticed the kids got a “little dirty.” As in, it took more than one round of bathwater to get everyone clean. There’s just something about the dirt at Hidden Wall that always makes my children look like chimney sweepers…oh well, I guess their immune systems should be in tip top shape right about now!

Little Orphan Z...

Little Orphan Z…


Hopefully you can look forward to much better pictures on this blog from now on!


Hidden Valley Fundraiser!

Tuesday night was a great one for the Charlotte climbing community.  It proved to me once again that NC climbers are a special group of people!  A few weeks ago, Garrett Gossett from the Charlotte Chapter of the American Alpine Club invite me to attend their next “Pint Night” to promote my new guidebook.  Once we put our heads together, we decided to take things a step further – why not turn this shindig into a fundraiser to benefit the Hidden Valley land acquisition?

Let the raffles begin!

Let the raffles begin!

Sycamore Brewery was kind enough to host our event, and the Bleu Barn Bistro’s food truck was parked right out front, offering delectable (and climbing-themed) local fare!  Raffle prizes were donated by Trango, REI, Skratch Labs, Hannah’s Coffee House, Misty Mountain, and Inner Peaks.  I also threw in a couple of guidebooks to be raffled off as well.

Katerina J. was the lucky winner of the Trango Crag Pack!

Katerina J. was the lucky winner of the Trango Crag Pack!

Sycamore had a great set-up.  Outdoor picnic tables with festive stringed lights were a perfect backdrop for a fun, family-friendly evening.  I even found a beer I liked, which is rare.  (The Salty Coconut, for anyone interested…)  The evening started out with me saying a few words about the guidebook writing process, then I hung out at the book table for a bit while everyone bought raffle tickets.  I was stoked to sell several books, and even signed some for donations (that also went towards Hidden Valley.)  The kiddos managed to make it ALMOST til the end before turning into pumpkins (thanks to the hubster for handling bedtime duty by himself that night!)

Memories of highschool yearbook signings at the book table

Memories of highschool yearbook signings at the book table

Since donations were coming in from a lot of different directions, it wasn’t until the next day that we found out how much money was raised…and the total came to $1100!!!  Way to represent, Charlotte!  For anyone that couldn’t make it out to the event but is planning on heading to Hidden Valley this summer, please consider giving online here.  The CCC is currently a little over halfway to paying off the purchase.

And for anyone that is interested in purchasing a guidebook, you can do so in a few different ways. 1) Buy them directly through me (infoATcragmamaDOTcom.)  2) Buy them at select retail locations – Inner Peaks, Triangle Rock Club, to name a few.  3) Buy them from the Earthbound Sports Publishing here.



Rock Climber’s Training Manual: Performance Phase (aka RESULTS!)


I’m writing this climbing-related post from just about as far away from the mountains as I can possibly get.  Hubby’s out of town on business, so me and the kiddos are taking the opportunity to hang out at my in-laws beach house in Sunset Beach, NC.  It’s the perfect way to enjoy my week of rest after wrapping up my very first Rock Prodigy training cycle.

To catch up any new readers, since January I’ve been using the program outlined in the Rock Climber’s Training Manual, written by my fellow Trango athletes Mark and Mike Anderson.  This periodized program took me through 4 distinct training phases – Base Fitness, Strength, Power and Power Endurance.  After completing all 4 phases I could in theory look forward to several weeks of “peak” performance.

I recapped the first two phases here, and the second two phases here, so all that’s left with this post is to talk about how the peak performance weeks went – ie, was all that discipline worth it?!?  And the best way to do that is to look at the numbers.

Notable Sends: Fired for Sandbaggin’ (5.12a), Le Futuriste (5.12b), Michelin Man Original (5.12b), Modern Primitive (5.12b), Hard Rock Cafe (5.12c)

Not the greatest picture, but I had to include a shot from Hard Rock Cafe (5.12c)

Not the greatest picture, but I had to include a shot from Hard Rock Cafe (5.12c)


1.  SENDING THE SAME GRADE FASTER.  This was the most notable improvement for me.  For comparison’s sake, I made a graph that broke down my 5.12 sends in 2012, 2013/2014 (combined b/c I was preggo during a large part of those years), and 2015 (divided into training phases, and performance phases.)  Putting things on the graph made the improvement glaringly obvious – I went from sending 5.12 in around 4-6 attempts to averaging only 2.6 tries per send!

2.  FIRST 5.12c.  I ended my performance phase with a trip to the High Country, where I was stoked to send my first 5.12c – Hard Rock Cafe out at Hawksbill Mountain.  I’d tried it a couple of times last fall, and this time around it went pretty easily on my 2nd go of the day!

3.  MORE TICKS PER WEEKEND.  Up until this performance phase, I’d never sent more than one 5.12 in a single weekend (in fact, during my Twelve 12’s in 2012 plan, my goal was only to send one per month.)  But Week 1 of performance I sent a 12a and a 12b, and during Week 2 I sent a pair of 12b’s.  This worked out logistically because of observation #1.  Less attempts per route = more routes in a weekend!

My graph, courtesy of Steve Lineberry

My graph, courtesy of Steve Lineberry

Michelin Man (5.12b)

Michelin Man (5.12b)

4.  MULTI-DAY STAMINA.  Ordinarily on a 4 day trip I end up going more for mileage than hard sends.  And while I didn’t send any 12’s during Week 3’s trip to the Red River Gorge, I ended up with five 5.11 onsight/flashes, which is a lot for me, especially considering that steep, pumpy terrain is generally not one of my strengths.

5.  EFFICIENT MOVEMENT.  My natural climbing pace is ridiculously slow (which is probably why steep, pumpy terrain is generally not one of my strengths…)  But all those power endurance laps in the gym forced me to keep a pretty good pace to keep from pumping out.  I also realized I that I still had a decent amount left in the tank once the pump clock started ticking, and I became more comfortable and confident climbing while pumped.  I also saw an increase in my explosive power, which meant big moves suddenly became a little easier.

6.  BALANCE.  Anyone who knows me knows that rest is not something I’m good at.  But training hard helped me to learn the value of “resting hard.”  I actually found myself really welcoming the upcoming break and looking forward to it.  Of course I’m chomping at the bit to get on with the next season, but the program as a whole put me in a very balanced and healthy mindset with regards to training.

Modern Primitive (5.12b)

Modern Primitive (5.12b)

So what’s next?  After geeking out via email with RCTM author Mark Anderson, I’ve actually got a basic training plan outlined through the end of the year.  It involves making sure my fingers are strong and my power is up before we head to Ten Sleep in August,  with a lot of power endurance training coming into the fall season.

But until then my plan is to squeeze in as much great climbing as I can before our local crags get engulfed by the Southeastern summer humidity blanket.  I’d love to hear from anyone else out there that’s used the RCTM (or any other periodized training plan), so please feel free to share your experiences in the comments below!

Enjoying the rest!

Enjoying the rest!