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

Death by Chocolate and Coming Up Short

As much as I would love to have this post be a final “send”-off trip report (see what I did there? ;)) before we head west to climb in Ten Sleep, it just didn’t happen for me this past weekend at Hidden Valley.  Certainly not for lack of trying.  Maaaaybe for lack of good conditions.  But I think more than likely I’m just mid-way through the process and it’s not my time yet.  

Wishing that pinch was a little better…

Let me back up – my last post mentioned a route that CragDaddy and I played around on called Death by Chocolate 12d.  It’s only 40 feet tall, so as you can probably imagine, it packs quite a power punch.  At first glance, it seemed like it would be a good fit for me – Technical 12a for the first 20 feet?  Yes, please.  Balancy and fingery arete crux? Bring it on!  But once I started working it, I began to feel like I’d bit off a bit more than I could chew.  

For starters, the most straightforward way to do the crux begins with a wider-than-my-wingspan reach to an okay sloping pinch that would probably be better than okay if and when the humidity is not at 90%.  My first weekend on it was focused on hitting the sloping pinch, and by the end, I was pleased to be able to consistently do just that using an undercling block and an awkward high foot.  However, solving that problem created a new one – since my new beta used every bit of my dead even ape index, it didn’t leave very much room to move my feet up without barn-dooring wildly.  I played around with various options, but couldn’t find anything that I could do without any toprope assistance.

Then there’s the issue of the last bolt…and the fact that there’s not really a clipping stance for it.  Thankfully the bolt below that is pretty close, but considering how hard the moves are to the finish, not close enough to consider skipping a clip.  CragDaddy eventually figured something out, but the same body position didn’t work for me because my legs were too stumpy to reach both footholds at the same time.  

CragDaddy looking smooth with the recommended crux beta.

So fast forward to this past weekend, where CragDaddy and I both came in ready to put another couple of days work into it.  Progress was going reasonably well, and when CragDaddy nabbed the send on his 2nd go of the day (watch video here!!!), I was psyched for a potential send train.  I kept at it, and by the end of the day I accomplished three things:  I found a toe hook in the crux that could control the barn door just long enough to allow me to move to the next hold, found a clipping stance for the last bolt, and twice was able to get from bottom to top on lead doing all the moves!  But no send.  

No worries, I figured, I still had the entire 2nd day ahead of me.  Now that I knew I could do the moves, I was optimistic that a send would come, and CragDaddy and I would both hike off into the sunset with a nice 12d under our belts to boost our confidence right before we head out west. 

Sticking the battle with the toe hook.

But I just couldn’t make it happen.  The psych was high…but 4 burns later, the best I could come up with was a one hang.  The frustrating part is that I can’t figure out why I couldn’t do the move on point.  I’ve got the first section so dialed in that I don’t feel pumped when I get to the crux.  There must be some subtle nuance to the beta that I’m missing.  From my end, it feels like I’m going up and executing exactly the same way every time….and sometimes I feel locked in and solid, other times I just peel right off.  Like a couple of dorks, CragDaddy and I have been analyzing the video footage, comparing my successful and failed attempts to see what looks different.  It blows my mind how similar they both look – there’s no obvious mistake that I’m making on the times where I fall.  My guess is that it’s gotta be something with the timing and how hard I’m engaging with the toe hook.  I’ve decided that next time I’m going to switch shoes – from my edging/technical favorite Tenaya Masai, to the Tenaya Mundaka, which has a LOT more rubber on the top.  I’m hoping that will help give me more purchase on that toe.  

Its not a Cragmama post without at least one shot of these awesome people.

But in the mean time here’s where I’m at.  4 days in and 13 attempts.  Already twice as many as Steve – not that we’re keeping score, but I’m sure his psych to hike back out there is not high.  I’ve lost a lot of skin, a little bit of pride, and maybe my temper a time or two.  I’ve pushed myself physically and mentally and (hopefully) come out stronger for it.  I’ve seen my power training pay off in big ways, only to discover more weaknesses (I guess boulderers aren’t the only ones that need to know how to toe hook…)  

All that’s left is the question of whether to try for it this weekend or not.  My chances are good NOW…but I’m worried about potentially losing more skin so close to Ten Sleep.  Pushing it back til fall means having to get back in shape again after spending the rest of the summer doing things other than climbing (namely, melting in the Southeast heat.)  The great news is that this is totally a 1st world problem, and in the big scheme of life, doesn’t matter one iota.  That said…what would you do if you were me?





In Jungles and in Floods…Trying Hard

Spring in the southeast has gifted us with just about the absolute worst weekend warrior climbing weather we could have asked for.  But we’ve got not choice but to go with what we’ve got, right?!?  Whether it’s Amazon-level heat and humidity at the New, or monsoon flood warnings at Hidden Valley, our cragfamily has been out there trying hard the past few weeks!  

Big C reaching high on Free Range Show Poodle 5.8

Our Mother’s Day spring-that-felt-like-summer weekend ended up being a lot more profitable than we’d first anticipated.  On our first day we went to Area 51 at the Meadow.  Amongst several moderate lines, CragDaddy and I were classy enough to dispatch “If You Lick It, She Will Come” 12a, a nice little technical line that probably deserves more traffic than it gets.  Big C got a chance to enjoy the view atop Free Range Show Poodle 5.8, and both cragkiddos got to frolic in the woods all day with the Old School Crag Kids of the McDermott CragFamily (their older kiddos even have their own climbing podcast – check it out here!)  

This kid is highly motivated by the promise of a great view!

Our second day, we ventured away from the crowds to try our hands at Wall Drug 12c.  The real business is all in the first 3 bolts, although the rest of it isn’t a gimme, as I could definitely envision falling pulling the final moves over the roof.  I did all the moves and made some decent links on my second go before melting in the sun on the upper face.  This one probably needs to wait for better conditions, but will be a great candidate for a fall project! 

Fast forward a couple of weeks (and a beach trip…and a wedding) later, and we found ourselves splashing around the base of the cliffs at Hidden Valley.  Seriously, it was a water park.  Routes that I’ve never ever seen wet were literally running with water.  There was even a roaring waterfall coming down out of a generally dry chimney.  Needless to say, our first afternoon was just spent hiking and scouting for the next day’s adventures.  Oh, and making a water slide for our Trolls figurines – not as fun as climbing, but a surprisingly interesting way to pass the time! 

Sunday was much better, though the aftermath from the torrential rains the previous day still rendered most routes unclimbable.  But we had pretty good luck in the Planetarium.  We got on 3 routes, one of which was a funky 12a that CragDaddy and I both sent 2nd go called Andromeda Strain.  (Seems like we’ve been all about the 2nd go sends lately…but we just can’t buy a flash/onsight!!!)  

We ended our day thrashing around on Death By Chocolate 12d.  It’s a short little number no taller than 50 feet, but it packs a LOT of interesting movement up a sharp arete.  The first couple of bolts are probably technical 11d/12a, then an okay rest with a cool heel/toe cam.  Then the route turns way up until the finish.  CragDaddy stick-clipped his way through, then I toproped…which we then did again. 

And again and again, the NEXT morning, because the last bolt is virtually impossible to clip!  In our many flailings over 4 burns we each managed to achieve a dicey-at-best clipping stance twice.  Lengthening the draw won’t help – the moves on the arete are just too barn-door inducing to take a hand off.  And short route + even harder moves above the last bolt means skipping it is not an option.  We THINK we did all the moves – although it’s always harder to gauge with toproping.  

When the rains came again around 2, our route was still dry, but with the super humid conditions we cut our losses and took the route down, in favor of an earlier home arrival and salvaging some gym time the following day.  This is another one that doesn’t feel like it’ll go down any time soon, but might be prime this fall.  

For now, however, I’m turning my attention to the last few weeks of gym training before we head out to Ten Sleep, Wyoming – where we will hopefully be living the high, crisp life of sport climbing at 9,000 feet while the rest of our friends are roasting in the Southeast jungle.  Aaaah, 27 days and counting!

Death by Chocolate 12d…sending rests entirely on my ability to get from the position on the left to the position on the right…so bring on the core strength workouts!!!


Kid-Free at the Red!

I have never been to the Red River Gorge without a child –  there’s either been one on the inside of me (like on our first trip in 2009), or one (or two) clinging to the outside of me (like EVERY other trip since then!)  So when CragDaddy’s parents graciously gifted us with a 3-day kid-free climbing weekend this spring, it was a no-brainer to head to Kentucky!  We had 3 PERFECT weather days…PERFECT.  It was so good I’m tempted to go on and on about it a little more, but I don’t want to jinx this upcoming weekend, so enough about that!

Cruxin’ on Mike Teavee 12a

Anyway, after a late arrival Thursday night, we were surprised to find ourselves only the 3rd car in the Muir Valley parking lot.  It’s amazing how quickly you can get up and at ’em when the only person you have to get ready is yourself.  We probably did just as much hiking as we did climbing on Day 1, though I still got in 6 pitches, which is still more than I normally get in with kids in tow!  We warmed up in the Boneyard before going all the way out to Midnight Surf, since CragDaddy wanted to try Iniquity 12b.  It was pretty hard and after falling way out into space up high, he opted to just come down.  Since he didn’t exactly sell it, I opted to move on to something else.  

We made our way down to Indy Wall, where I was really psyched to send Posse Whipped 12a hanging draws!  I’d given it a couple of burns at the end of our last RRG trip a few weeks ago, but was too tired to get it done on point.  This time, however, despite remembering very little about the long, intricate sequences, I felt great on it, and was able to keep the pump under control all the way to the chains.  Next came Social Stigma 11b, an easier version of Posse Whipped with a couple of long lock-offs at the end.  I ended my day on The Happy Fisherman 11d, on which I gave a great onsight burn, but fell at the last bolt because I was too pumped to hang the draw.  Once it was in, it wasn’t that bad to clip.  I tried the route again, but due to the desperate blitz I gave it on my 1st attempt, I remembered zero of the moves and botched a sequence near the top.  Oh well – good falls and good pump are good training, right?  

Day 2 was spent touring the Motherlode and the Chocolate Factory.  We warmed up on Snapper 11a, then headed over to the Buckeye Buttress to get on The Reacharound 12c.  Neither of those went particularly well for me – the former because my hands were super cold, the latter because the moves were super hard.  Think big wingspan compression…CragDaddy put in a pretty valiant effort on it, but then felt pretty thrashed, so we moved on.  The only other time we went to the Chocolate Factory, we got lost in a maze of little rabbit trails, so this time we decided to start at the beginning of the cliff and work our way over to get our bearings.  We ended up at the base of two nice looking 12a’s just as the sun went over the top of the cliff – J Rat’s Back and Mike Teavee.  

Hiking out of Muir Valley with my climbing date.

First assessment we thought that Teavee looked a little easier, so we decided to hop on that one first.  Turns out it was NOT easier…though it was definitely fun and worth doing.  A powerful move down low, some crimp moves in the middle, and a long run out to the anchors that is easy…except for the move to the final clipping hold if you are vertically challenged.  I stick-clipped the anchors, figuring I was just missing something…nope.  It was either a big deadpoint move, or a hand/foot match mantle – neither of which I wanted to do a full body length above my bolt, so I did what any sane person that values their ankles would do.  I extended the anchors and practiced clipping off the crimp (same height as everyone else, but minus the hand/foot match mantle.)

My 2nd attempt went great, though by the time I finished the low crux and the crimp section, I definitely needed the hueco sit-down rest that came next.  I clipped the chains guilt-free (and if any purists wanna fight about it, I’d probably let you win.)  

By this time, another party had draws up on J Rat, and asked if I’d be up for cleaning it, which was a no brainer.  Turns out this one was easier AND “funner.”  Long moves between deep pockets to a giant undercling move and some crimps, then more moderate climbing until the finish.  (Same runout to the chains, only this time the climbing was easy the ENTIRE way up. 😉 ) I gave a lot of try hard on the flash burn, but came up just short on the undercling move.  The rest of the route was pretty straightforward, and I felt like it would go the next day after a good night’s sleep.

Spiderman squat rest just before the business on J Rat. Photo: Michael Chickene @dtpmedia

I usually hate it when people like to casually toss the phrase “height-dependent” around, as there are so many more factors to making big moves besides height – ie, if you never learned how to lock-off, everything at the New will seem reachy no matter how tall/short you are!  However that said, the undercling move on J Rat might be height dependent.  I’m 5’5″ with a dead even ape index, and I could juuuust span the reach with my arms, using the highest available feet.  Next day, when my friend who is 2 inches shorter than me tried it, she could literally not have a hand on both holds at the same time.  Not saying there’s physically no way she could have done it…but the difficulty sure as heck wouldn’t have been anywhere close to 5.12.  

Day 3 started out a good deal cooler than the previous mornings, which worked out great since the routes we wanted got morning sun.  After a quick warm-up on Squirrelworker 11a, I dispatched J Rat without too much difficulty, save a little bit of back and forth action at the rest trying to remember the next sequence (Thanks to CragDaddy for hanging draws for me 😉 ).  My day ended on almost back to back laps on Oompa 10a and Loompa 10c…and doopadeedoo, that was the most pumped I’d been all weekend!  

Now if the weather would just hold out ONE more time, CragDaddy and I have ANOTHER kid-free weekend on the horizon coming up, hopefully at the New!  



Friday is the New Saturday

What do desperate climbers do when the past umpteen weekends have had a crap-a-delic forecast?  Play hooky and make Friday the new Saturday!  While our last-minute decision to leave a day early made for a hectic start to our earlier-than-normal weekend, it was well worth it for us all – and we got plenty of rest on the back end of the weekend to prepare for the upcoming week…I think I could get used to this strategy!

Burly jump start of Headbutt 11d…cool pic, but no send.

While the New was beckoning to me like a singing siren to a delirious sailor, we ended up going to Hidden Valley so CragDaddy could get a crack at his project from last year before the weather turned too hot.  He’d been working on the 13a slab start to Spurs, a line more commonly done as a 5.9 hand crack to an awesome 5.10 jug haul.  Last spring he was able to link much of the opening crux, and after jump training all summer, was able to get the dyno crux at around 50% success rate during the fall…but then just couldn’t put the lower moves together.  But thankfully, it all came together for him this time around, and he earned his ticket to the 5.13 club in fine style!  We got a little bit of video of the send – check that out here.

That’s a 5.13 climber up there!!!

I’ve got nothing on the dyno, but lucky for me, CragDaddy was done by mid-day and we had the rest of the afternoon to spend at the SNL wall, where I was psyched to try the Coneheads Link-up line.  

This line connects the bottom half of Coneheads #2 (12c) with the upper half of Coneheads #1 (13a).  The former I completed last fall, and the latter I’d never touched.  The bottom half begins with a crack, which CragDaddy and I both have pretty darn dialed at this point, as the opening crack is ALSO shared by Blues Brothers 12a, which we ALSO did last fall.  After the crack is a weird sequence around a big block, which although not incredibly hard (11a?) is fairly burly and a little bit scary cutting feet with the large brown slab looming below you.  The fear factor can be neutered with a piece of gear, then the rock kicks back into a sea of overhanging bucket jugs for a couple of bolts to intersect with the upper section of Coneheads #1.  Pulling onto the upper headwall involves a big rock-over move and long toss to a jug, followed by sustained technical face climbing similar to it’s neighbor, Coneheads #2.  The headwall sequence on this link-up is a little easier though – not quite as powerful, and not quite as long.  There’s a decent row of holds a few feet from the anchors that takes the edge off and allows for a clipping stance, thus avoiding the same long runout found on Coneheads #2.  

Clipping just before embarking on the block move, Coneheads Link 12c

My first go was just okay.  The upper section was covered in dirty silt from all the recent rain, and after repeatedly getting dirt and lichen in my eye from trying to brush the holds at the extent of my reach, I ended up stick-clipping my way through the crux so I could save my sight and brush from above.  Although I rehearsed the sequence again when I lowered, I was pretty tired and the sequence was so much to remember.  I also wasn’t super confident about my beta for the scary block move down low, and due to the steepness of the middle section, couldn’t get back down to it to practice it again on lower.  So because of all that (and also because sometimes I’m a pansy ;)) I decided to toprope for my second go, figuring it would be easier to refine my beta in those questionable sections, knowing that it really wouldn’t matter since I wasn’t ready to send anyway. 

Chicken winging my way to the send…Coneheads Link 12c

But.  You guys I did it!  Only not really, because I was on toprope.  Dangit.  The bottom part was smooth sailing, and I felt like I had all day in the upper section, casually cruising through the crux (all the while bemoaning my mistake that was becoming more and more obvious with every move.)  Moral of the story – believe in yourself, and don’t be a pansy!  

Thankfully though, the story doesn’t end there, as I still had enough time for one more shot.  This time the bottom part went just as smoothly as before, but by the time I got to the big rockover move, I was a lot more pumped than I wanted to be.  I barely made the move, but I shook out best I could, told myself I only had about 8 feet before another decent hold, and launched into the upper crux.

And then a familiar feeling started to creep in…you know the one.  It’s like when you’re watching a basketball game and the team that’s been winning the whole game starts making a few mistakes, and the losing team capitalizes on those mistakes.  You can feel the tide turn as the losing team begins gaining momentum, and all of a sudden the winning team starts “playing not to lose” rather than “playing to win.” As a climber I’ve noticed a similar phenomenon in the redpoint process – when that previously pumped-but-managing-to-stay-in-control state starts to unravel and panic starts to set in a little bit, there’s a temptation to shift from “climbing to send” to “climbing not to fail.” 

Everyone had an awesome day.

My pump clock started ticking faster and faster.  I reached up for my next hold, but it wasn’t where I thought it was going to be, and I burned several seconds (and valuable forearm juice) trying to find it.  By the time I got back on track I was red-lining, and that panicky feeling had turn into desperation.  I concentrated on my foot placements and keeping as much tension as I could, and somehow still made the long lock off to the clipping hold at the last bolt.  My inner monologue had told myself it should have been over at that point.  And it should have.  Just a handful of moves left, on thin feet, but decent edges.  But coming in hot on lap #3 of this route, the battle was anything but over.  The sun was now filtering through the trees at an angle that made everywhere I looked either blindingly bright or completely shadowed, and I couldn’t for the life of me find the right footholds for the final moves.  After a few moments of panic, I just smeared my feet and hung onto the final edges with everything I had.  The finishing jug was huge…but there was so much rope drag that I almost couldn’t even clip.  I got the rope in probably only a couple of seconds from my hands completely opening up.

All smiles

While I’ve been on harder routes before, and certainly made my share of desperate moves before, I don’t think I’ve ever been THAT pumped and had to try THAT hard for THAT long…and still been successful.  I credit that success to the training I’ve been doing with Kris Hampton of Power Company Climbing.  This was the first time I’ve ever sent 12c in a day before, and in essence, I sent it twice.  Had I not given in to self-doubt and pulled the rope to get the legit send on the 2nd go, I would have been delighted with how easily the route had gone down.  But even though it wasn’t the way I would have planned it, forcing the try hard burn at the end of the day was a pretty cool experience, and showed me that maybe I’ve got a lot more in the tank than I thought.  After all, sends that are bought by sheer will power, the ones you feel like you maybe “got away with” a little bit, are always the most memorable! 

And apparently I really did leave it all out there on Friday, because when Saturday rolled around I had nothing!  My second day was filled with unsends, thrashings, and flailings of all kinds.  I’m sure it didn’t help that it’s mid-April and this was our first time climbing two days in a row all spring…thanks rain.  But on the bright side, the forecast for this coming weekend is looking like we may get a spring after all!  Fingers crossed.  

Looking forward to lots more of this in the coming weeks!



Spring, then Winter, then Spring at the Red

So it’s been a loooooong time since I’ve written on this blog.  While I never write as often in the winter, usually I can at least put together a post or two, but apparently not this time around!  The intention was there.  We did some cool stuff worth writing about – skiing, snow tubing, hiking, a kid climbing day at Rocky Face, and even a daytrip date with CragDaddy to Rumbling Bald.  But that whole “time-to-write” thing kept eluding me.  However, with the beginning of spring season upon us, it’s time to find the time again.

Big C soaking up the sun at the Solar Collector

It’s only fair to warn you that this first trip report of spring will not be nearly as exciting as the last trip reports from fall, where I broke into a new number grade for the first time in 7 years.  Actually, compared to the high I felt then, this trip report is more than a little lackluster, perhaps downright boring.  In fact, this trip report is the kind of post that I sometimes am tempted to just skip out on altogether.  But the reality is, THIS kind of trip report is what happens the majority of the time for all of us.  Lots of try hard, lots of failure, and juuuust enough success to keep the stoke high enough on the psych-meter.  

That said, the first real climbing trip of the season can be summed up like this – it was spring, then it was winter, then it was spring again.  We knew going in that we would have 1 bad day sandwiched in between 2 good days.  We debated back and forth whether the long drive to Kentucky was worth it.  But after months of daydreaming about spring climbing, desperation won out and we went anyway, and of course, made the best of every situation presented to us.  

Day 1 was spent soaking up the sun at the aptly named Solar Collector wall in PMRP.  After training with Power Company Climbing all winter and seeing some pretty good gains in the gym, I was anxious to see how those gains would translate on real rock.  I tied in to Decline of Western Civilization 10a and promptly hang-dogged my way up it.  (To be fair, the rock was still REALLY cold….;) )  My next pitch was decidedly better – I flashed Mona Lisa Overdrive 11b.  Thank goodness for huecos!  Pitch #3 was Buddha Hole 11d.  No send, but I put in a really valiant flash attempt and fell just a couple of moves before hitting the 5.10 jugs.  I felt pretty trashed afterwards so I didn’t get on it again, but looking back, I wish I would have.  Perhaps decisions like that should not be made when your forearms are still hard as rocks…

From spring to winter…

After hiking around to check out the (ironically still shaded) Bright Side, we ended up back at Solar Collector, this time by the slabs on the right side.  I was really proud of myself for hanging on for the onsight of Butt Sweat and Tears, but was disappointed to find out it was only 11b, as it had felt a lot more intense than that to me.  Regardless of grade however, it was super fun, although it would probably get more action at the New than in it’s current location (perhaps that’s why I liked it so much!)  Everyone ended their day on Brambly Downslide 10a, including the Big CragKiddo!  While he’s been getting up some mid-10’s at the gym lately, this was by far his hardest outdoor climb to date.  He rested several times, but did all the moves.  Some of them were pretty hard and I was proud of him for sticking with it and not getting frustrated! 

We woke up the next day to snow, which the kids were super excited about.  The snow was forecasted to shift to a cold rain after lunch, so we bundled up and headed out for a snow hike.  Being the nature dorks that we are, we were delighted at all the animal tracks we were able to identify in the snow – deer, rabbit, raccoon, and even fox!  The rest of the day was passed with games, reading, and a trip to the Kentucky Reptile Zoo (if you are into reptiles, you should definitely make a point to visit some time!) 

Day 3 dawned cold but sunny, and we went to Muir Valley.  We spent the first part of the day over at the Inner Sanctum, where CragDaddy onsighted Psyberpunk 11c and I nabbed the flash.  Big C worked his way up Netizen Hacktivist 9+, proclaiming “This is so fun!” at least 4 or 5 times throughout the climb, then we moved over to the Sanctuary, where things started to fall apart a bit.  I got stomped on the opening moves of Immaculate Deception 11d, then came closer to a big flapper than the chains on Jesus Wept 12d.  We shifted around to the now-sunny Indy Wall, where I got draws up on Posse Whipped 12a, a very technical line I’d tried once several years ago.  The movement is very crimpy and sustained, with pretty terrible feet in the crux.  I think I would have had a good shot at it next go, but unfortunately it was getting pretty late in the day and we needed to get on the road, so I didn’t wait nearly long enough before tying in again.  I fell at the end of the crux when my hands got mixed up.  

Huecos make the route go…Mona Lisa Overdrive 11b

So two days of climbing and the best I had to show for it on paper was a couple of mid 11’s.  Again, kinda lackluster compared to the end of last fall.  However.  While I may not PHYSICALLY be where I want to be yet, I was in a really good place MENTALLY.  Many times I start out a new season feeling timid and scared to fall.  It takes me a while to ease in to “trying hard.” But this time around my head game felt great.  I moved confidently and without hesitation, even when my forearms were going numb, and took some good ole try hard falls.  And with the exception of the routes at the Sanctuary, I felt fairly strong…I just got PUMPED!  And I guess for a season opening trip to the Red, that shouldn’t come as a surprise.  

Now if only this rain would stop, we could get on with spring and start going to the New!

Netizen Hacktivist 9+