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

Photos at Hidden Valley with Fixed Line Media

A couple of weeks ago, we were excited that despite it being August, climbing conditions were not unbearable.  THIS weekend, however, we were shocked to find that conditions were down right good.  The mornings were cool, the air was crisp…I can’t believe this is happening in August, but I’m gonna call it – It’s Fall Ya’ll!!!!  Bring on Sendtember and Rocktober!  

The stunning backdrop high on Meatballs 12a/b
Photo: Bryan Miller @fixedlinemedia

But first, this weekend.  It was awesome because we had a great crew of people and got to work with Bryan Miller of Fixed Line Media.  Bryan is a rad adventure photographer that does his best work dangling from, you guessed it, a fixed line.  He answered the call of the mountains after years at a corporate desk job, and boldly left it because life is too short to not do what you love.  We’ve been trying to set up this photo weekend for a long while, and this weekend it finally happened.

CragDaddy with his flagging game on point.
Photo: Bryan Miller @fixedlinemedia

Our weekend plans got off to a funky start on Friday night, when we rolled in to Hidden Valley around 8, only to discover that the lake itself was closed (meaning no camping.)  Luckily, there is a commecial campground about 10 minutes down the road, so we were able to find a spot there.  It was crowded, expensive, and filled with giant RVs…not the way we usually roll, but it worked great in a pinch, and our spot right by the river was lovely.

Lemme interrupt all the climbing porn to show you a sweet daddy daughter moment.

We started our weekend off by warming up on Tidy Bowl 10a and You’re Gonna Need More Charmin Mr. Whipple 11a (seriously, these names?!?)  Then we made our way over to the main event – Meatballs 12a/b.  We figured out the beta for Meatballs a few weeks ago, and after a little more training in the gym, we both felt ready to send.  Bryan was psyched at the aesthetics of the rock, so he got rigged up on a neighboring route, and away we went.  Since Steve was kind enough to hang draws for me, I was able to send on my first attempt of the day, then I took another lap to make sure we got the shot Bryan wanted.  The lighting was perfect during Steve’s first send attempt, but he was so distracted flexing for the camera that he pitched off at the anchors.  😉  He tried it again later in the day though, and put it down in fine style.

Big C keeping it classy on Butt Crack 5.7+

Photo: Bryan Miller @fixedlinemedia

The objective for Day 2 was Blues Brothers 12a, another line we’d tried on our last trip out.  It’s a gorgeous, intimidating line that has a little bit of everything.  A burly, technical crack down low, some powerful bouldery moves on the steep headwall, culminating with a slopey mantle to the chains with some big air consequences.  It was my turn to hang draws, and if I’m honest, I was a little nervous about it.  On the last trip we’d had trouble finding the holds for the finish and resorted to stick clip shenanigans to get to the chains. This time though, the opening sequence felt far less awkward, thanks to refined beta and the addition of a cheater block that enabled me to reach the starting holds and still keep my shoulders engaged.  I was also more than delighted to find that our autumn-like conditions made the slopey holds at the top feel as gritty as sandpaper, making the final sequence a LOT more secure.  With the draws up and beta dialed, I felt pretty good about a next-go send, but there was a deadpoint move in the middle that I wasn’t sure I could hit on the fly.  It doesn’t always work out, but today it did – every sequence flowed smoothly, save a brief moment of panic where I got stalled out for a second or two trying to stand up out of the finishing crux.  But all’s well that ends well.  CragDaddy put in two solid burns, but didn’t quite have enough gas to finish it out, though I’m sure it’ll go down for him next trip.  

CragDaddy cutting loose on Blues Brothers 12a Photo: Bryan Miller @fixedlinemedia

When it came down to actual pitches done over the weekend, quality definitely won out over quantity.  Seems like everyone in our (large) crew accomplished something that they wanted to on the trip.  Turns out good people, good weather, and good climbing is still the perfect trifecta for fall adventures!

Sticking the deadpoint move on Blues Brothers 12a
Photo; Bryan Miller @fixedlinemedia

Many many thanks to Bryan Miller for hanging out with us (literally as well as figuratively) – you really captured the beauty of what Hidden Valley has to offer to the Southeastern climber.  Also props to the rest of the crew this weekend – Casey, Terah, Lee, and Sydney, thanks for the belays and all the help with the kiddos. Next week – Red River Gorge or bust! 


Gear Review: The “mifold” Grab and Go Booster Seat

Look how small it is when folded up!

A while back I was contacted by mifold, a company whose sole product is a booster seat that is…wait for it…smaller than a Bible!!! I’ll be honest, at first I was skeptical.  But after watching the videos on how it works, I agreed to give it a try.  

The idea behind it is simple, and more than a little bit genius – regular booster seats are designed to lift the child up, putting them in the same position that an adult would be.  The mifold does the opposite – the child stays where they are, but the seatbelt itself is secured down in the safest position.  The lap belt is held onto the child’s hip bones, and the chest strap aligns with the shoulder.

Big C’s first impression was a good one – he felt big and grown up without having to use a regular booster, and loved the “freedom” he felt from being unencumbered in his seat.  The instructions were clearly written and we had no trouble figuring out how to use it properly (and the videos are great, for us visual learners out there!)  Minor adjustments need to be made just about every time he got in and out of the seat, but once it was adjusted, Big C said he was pretty comfy.  

Strapped up and ready to go!

The safety stats are impressive as well.  You can find out more about that here and here.  Mifold may have “skimped” on size, but they didn’t sacrifice safety to do so!  

Though we’ll probably stick with Big C’s regular booster for everyday use, we are very glad to have a mifold in our travel arsenal. On the special occasions that we adventure far enough to warrant a plane flight (and therefore a rental car), a portable carseat such as mifold is a lot easier to travel with, and significantly cheaper than paying the car rental company for a booster.  The logistics of riding with grandparents or impromptu playdates just got a lot more convenient, as we can just leave the mifold tucked away in the glove box until we need it at a moment’s notice.  If we lived in an area where we regularly took taxis, I could see this product providing a lot of peace of mind!  

Bottom line – mifold offers a great safety record and a great convenience all at a great price point!  It’s a must have for today’s on the go family.  Get yours here.

No comparison in packability! (Pic taken from Mifold website)


Great American Eclipse 2017

For months I’d been looking forward to my 37th birthday…not because I’m anxious to be another year older, but because this year my birthday fell on one of the craziest weekends of the year – Solar Eclipse 2017.  My one request was that I wanted the whole family to drive to the path of totality to witness this celestial display together.  Considering that our home town of Charlotte, NC was only about 50 miles outside of the edge of the path, it wasn’t a hard sell.  

Not bad for a last minute find.

Rather than fight through the traffic on either side of a day trip, we decided we’d prefer to go up the night before, but we had of course procrastinated too long to get reasonably priced hotel reservations, and all the state park camping had long since been booked up.  That’s where the goodness of the climbing community came in – a friend of ours from the Joccassee Gorges area gave us a heads up on several local first come, first serve primitive camping options that were off the beaten path.  

So after church on Sunday, we drove off to SC for an adventure, not knowing exactly where we were gonna spend the night, but optimistic that one of our 3 options would pan out.  In addition to our giant orange tent, we also packed our 2 person backpacking tent and a couple of hammocks as Plan B in case we couldn’t find enough space in the woods to erect Big Orange.  We were amazed that our first option atop Sassafras Mountain was not only available, but that we were the ONLY ones there!  Well, sort of.  There were in fact several tents strewn across the summit ridge, but our solid climber beta got us away from the crowds, and out of the baking sun by hiking down into the woods from a pullout half a mile from the summit.  The hike in was less than 2 tenths of a mile, and the camping area was perfect – plenty big enough for big orange (although C was kinda psyched on the hammock idea, so we ended up stringing that up for him anyway!). 

We are ready!

Everyone felt a lot better after we had secured our sleeping arrangements, so we went off to find something fun to do for the evening.  And what better way to celebrate a birthday AND an eclipse than an evening paddle on beautiful Lake Joccassee?  Maybe if we added in some cliff jumping in clear water that was perfectly refreshing without being even a little bit cold?!?  We enjoyed ourselves to the fullest, and I told CragDaddy that I haven’t had a birthday that fun since the one I spent in Ten Sleep.  After a picnic dinner overlooking the lake, we headed back up to our own little corner of the mountain.  

Considering that Sassafrass Mountain is the highest point in SC and right in the center of the path of totality, we knew we wouldn’t be the only ones up there viewing the eclipse.  We started hearing the first cars drive up to the summit around 730, our signal to quickly pack up camp in order to grab a parking space at the top, as there was only space for about 30 cars in the lot. We were thankfully able to park pretty close even though we weren’t in the lot, but by the end of the day, cars were lined on both sides of the curvy mountain road well past our camping pullout at the half-mile marker!

We staked out a good spot for our chairs along the top of the ridge, but still had several hours before the action started, so we descended back down into the shade for some hiking, overlooking…and parkour in the woods.  Vaulting across a giant log that had fallen across the trail kept both kiddos entertained for the better part of an hour.  Once the partial phase of the eclipse began, I was very thankful that our chosen viewing area had so many options to run, explore, and get away from the crowds and the sun whenever we needed a break.  CragDaddy stayed glue to his seat for most of the duration, while I did laps with an antsy Little Zu (and eventually Big C, once he figured out that he could leave his seat and still watch the progress of the eclipse.)

After having seen the forecast (and being on top of a mountain), we weren’t surprised when the afternoon clouds rolled in.  They never shielded us from viewing for more than a few minutes at a time, and the cloud cover made waiting around feel much more pleasant.  We got a very clear window for a long time leading up to totality, but unfortunately a cloud moved over at exactly the wrong time, which prevented us from seeing the diamond ring or the corona.  But while we didn’t SEE all that we had hoped to see during totality, we certainly experienced it with all of our other senses…it was like someone just switched the lights off!  I was not at all prepared for it to go that dark, that fast!  And our reward for trekking up to the highest point in SC?  An amazing 360 degree sunset panorama as far as the eyes could see, with nothing but pitch black shadows below us.  

Just before totality…


The air got still and the crowds went silent, save a few murmurings and oohs and ahh’s…and then Little Z tipped backwards out of her chair from straining to look behind her.  And with that, the afternoon “dawned” quickly, like we were inside a video that was fast forwarding at twice normal speed.  

Overall, what an amazing phenomenon to witness, especially as a family!  Big C has not stopped talking about the event since, and has told everyone we run into all that he saw and experienced.  Who needs textbooks for science when the world around us is this awesome and we can explore it in such amazing ways?!?  #notus #homeschoolperks How did your family celebrate the eclipse? 


A Bit of “Pre-Season” Climbing…

Wow.  It has been TWO months since I last posted here…I think that’s a record!  Our summer has been busy, but mostly with family beach vacations and pool/water park adventures.  Exciting and fun?  Of course!  But fit for a climbing blog – not so much.  Speaking of climbing, fall is quickly approaching, and WE. CANNOT. WAIT.  Those first few fall trips are always like a bird being let out of a cage to see if its wings really work.  We’ve been gym rats all summer – hangboarding, core work, and even an impromptu bouldering comp.  Soon it’ll be time to get out and see if it did us any good.  

Getting horizontal during Mating Season 11d

We got a sneak peek at fall this past weekend…sort of.  With a few passing rain showers and a lingering mist over most of Saturday, conditions could hardly be called “crisp.”  But mountain highs in the 70’s at least made for more friendly temps than the typical smothering August heat waves.  We had no agenda other than to get back on a rope and get our family hiking legs back into shape.  

A happy little hiker with Mr. Nick, one of her faves.

Saturday morning the whole cliff was socked in with fog, and even rock that stays dry in a downpour was still wet due to condensation (aka “rock sweat.”)  But we managed to find enough pitches to satisfy us for one day.  Best route of the day was Mating Season 11d, a technical face that led to a big roof.  (You can also stop at the rainy day anchors before the roof for a great 11b face climb.)  We moved on after one attempt, but after seeing how wet everything else was, by the end of the day we were wishing we’d kept the draws on for a send attempt.  We also tried Trans-Vest-Tights on the Chocolate Wall, an 11a face climb with a 12a extension that climbs a steep, crimpy headwall.  CragDaddy bailed on the extension due to unforeseen wet holds, but his report was that it’s well worth returning to in dryer conditions.  (I, however, am not sold on the lower part…it was pretty heady in a reachy kinda way for both myself and our other climbing partner of similar height.)  Also worth noting on the Chocolate Wall was Fudge 12c, a 4 star route that was advertised as “probably 13a for shorter persons.”  Never hurts to try though, right?  CragDaddy and I were both feeling great on all the moves until reaching the last bolt.  Then we both got completely shut down.  Despite every combination of beta we tried, it seemed like we were always short one foot, one hand hold, etc.  I guess it’s back to the gym to train for that one…or maybe just not get back on it.  If I’m gonna put 5.13 effort into something, I’d like to get 5.13 credit for it ;).  

Big C contemplating life on the face of Stallion 5.5

Day 2 brought no rain and a lot more sun, and by the end of the day, all but the seepiest of routes were dry.  Turns out CragDaddy and I, as well as our extra partner, all got a second chance sending go at Mating Season (well, 2nd AND third chance for me due to a hand hold breaking mid-crux, but it eventually went!)  We also thrashed around on the classic Blues Brothers 12a.  Definitely a good climb worth coming back to, but I’ll wait til the fall when the giant, furry spiders are all hiding away too deep for my hands to reach.   

CragDaddy working through Blues Brothers 12a

Last climb of the day was Meatballs 5.12a/b, a short but sweet line on the (you guessed it…) Meat Wall.  It shares a start with another classic – Possum Tongues of Aspic 12c, that we are potentially interested in for this fall.  Both climbs begin with a full-wingspan move that was actually far easier than it looked, then the former takes a right across a sea of incut crimps, while the latter tackles the blunt arete.  Considering it’s still “pre-season” and my endurance is no where near where it needs to be yet, I felt really good about making it to the last bolt (crux) on my flash attempt.  Meatballs packs A LOT of movement into a relatively short expanse of rock – great for training finger endurance.  I rehearsed the upper half of the route as I lowered and got it all clean, so I felt optimistic about a 2nd go send, but I wasted too much time looking for a foothold midway through, and found myself falling just before I could latch the finishing jug.  I’ll definitely get on it again this fall, when hopefully I’ll be in better shape and it’ll go down pretty easily.  

Stretched out like spaghetti on Meatballs 5.12a/b

Can’t wait for SEND-tember!  What projects are YOU putting work into this fall?


(FINALLY!) Back at the NRG

It only took us until the middle of June this year, but we FINALLY made it back up to one of our favorite places in the entire world this past weekend.  All spring it seemed we had one logistical issue after another – weather, partners, schedules, you name it.  The only other time we’ve gone this long without climbing at the New River Gorge was the year Little Zu was born, when we skipped spring/summer up there entirely and waited til fall.  But now all is right in the world.  It may be too little too late when it comes to enjoying “the season” up there, but at least we got one fix in before the summer heat and humidity takes over.  

Narcissus 12a Photo by Michael Johnston

Considering the hot, sunny forecast, we opted to spend Day 1 at Summersville Lake.  Nothing like a gorgeous water backdrop that you can melt into at the end of the day!  We started our day getting some redemption on an area classic, Satisfaction Guaranteed 11a.  CragDaddy and I had both bailed off this route way back in 2010.  He was 50+ pounds heavier at the time, and I was just 5 months postpartum…but we had no issues with it on Saturday, and now we’re satisfied ;).

Kiddos playing pirates (and “shooting” passing boats with a “driftwood gun.”)

Next was Narcissus 12a.  I’d also been on this one before, back in 2012, though it was a bolt to bolt run that was nowhere close to a legitimate sending attempt.  This route is touted as a must-do for the grade, and after my recent successes on the steeps this spring, I was optmistic that it could go down in a day.  My first run, however, was not as smooth as planned, and I struggled more than I’d wanted to on a couple of sections.  My second run felt great – I was clean all the way up to the last deadpoint move.  

For me the line boils down to 3 hard sections – a long move off crimps, a choice between 2 boulder problems (one going left, one going right…I go right), and a big deadpoint off a small sidepull.  The finish is steep and pumpy, with giant, flat holds that SHOULD be good enough if you can just keep yourself together…but it’s by no means a sure thing, and I know at least one person that has whipped at the chains.  

Kaos 12c Photo by Michael Johnston

My third go was shaky, potentialy because I tried out some new clipping beta for the 3rd bolt…something just didn’t feel right, and I fell moving into the boulder problem.  In the back of my mind I was thinking I perhaps had missed my “sending window,” but there was still plenty of time left in the day, so I hopped on it again.  I went back to my original clipping beta, and the lower moves flowed a lot better.  When I got to the deadpoint move, I made sure to get my right foot as high as it could go, and tossed for all I was worth…and it was enough!  The finish was uneventful, and I lowered off with a smile on my face, and a right forearm that continued to feel pumped for the next 12 hours.  

The rest of my day was spent in the water with the kiddos, while the rest of our crew finished up the day on the Long Wall.  Big shout out to Little Zu for hiking almost the entire way out of the crag…barefoot.  There were MANY hiking bears involved, but she powered through until the last downhill bit to the parking lot, where I carried her in my arms like a baby, and she went from hiking to sleeping in a matter of 300 feet.  

I’m not sure what’s going on here but it looks fun!

Day 2 dawned equally sunny and a smidge warmer even, so off to Kaymoor we went to find shade.  I hopped on Boing 10d, which is one of my favorites, then moved over to Control 12a.  CragDaddy had already sent Control on a previous trip last spring, so he decided to put in some work on Kaos 12c, and after a few burns, he was able to do all the moves and link the lower section.  I’d taken a couple of burns on Control once before (the same day CragDaddy had sent), so I was hopeful I’d be able to put it all together.  I took a run up to hang draws, and felt even better about my chances.  Then I proceeded to fall at the SAME FREAKIN’ MOVE on the next FOUR redpoint attempts.  Each story was the same – get through the opening bit, crimp hard on the traverse, get feet set for the crux move, lunge…..and fall.  Then hang for a few seconds, pull back on, and fire the move like it was no big deal.  For whatever reason, I just could NOT do that move on point!  

In hindsight, I think the problem can be blamed on “not enough NRG time” lately.  If you’ve been there, you know…the New requires so much more focus than the same grade at pretty much any other sport crag I’ve ever been to.  Each time I fell on Control, my crew and I noticed some sort of subtle nuance of body position that I was doing differently when I was coming in hot, versus trying the move off the hang.  Obviously, when you’re at your limit, every bit of technique helps no matter what crag you’re climbing at…but NRG is the only place where I consistently have to stay focused on so MANY minute details for the ENTIRE climb, as opposed to just one or two moves.  Nothing is a gimme at the New!  That said, I THINK I have the beta dialed down to the letter for next time on Control….that is, if I can get myself psyched to get on it again!  

Control 12a, Photo by Michael Johnston

The thing that I’ve learned about the New River Gorge is that it can be frustratingly unpredictable when it comes to doling out sends.  The day before, my efforts were rewarded on Narcissus.  The next day, not so much, despite putting in what felt like the same, if not MORE effort.  The great thing is that sending or not sending really has zero importance in the grand scheme of life.  😉

And with that said, I’m so thankful for his place, and I’m so glad we got a chance to go back before the heat got too ridiculous.  Hopefully the logistics will work out a little better for us in the fall, and we’ll be able to rack up some back to back trips during prime conditions.  But, until then, you can find us dividing our time between the gym and the pool for the next couple of weeks!