Sunday, December 11, 2011

Warm Enough!

Today we set a new record. Annie and I climbed outside, on rock - the latest date in the calendar year ever for us.  It was only about 31 degrees, but since we had a bluebird sky with relatively no wind, we figured the rock would be warm. We were right. We got to enjoy 2 of our favorite routes on our close-to-home cliff and it will now be duly noted in the climbing journal.  We could hear ice popping free, breaking up and rattling down the gully in the distance - but our routes were safe from the falling, frozen debris.  It was a real pleasure to be able to crimp and smear on the real stuff today.  This is a rarity in Vermont only 9 or 10 days shy of the shortest day in the year.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Climbing with City Friends (Lost City)

This past weekend's weather was an about-face from last weekend. You know what they say "If you don't like the weather in New England, just wait a minute."  Abundant sunshine and warmer temperatures can be spelled with a mere five letters: G-U-N-K-S

If you have followed this blog from the initial weeks, during my cross-country adventure, you may recall that I met 2 delightful young people from New Paltz at the City of Rocks (Idaho) in July and climbed with them.  Here is the photo of Colin and Emily from that time.
Colin and Emily at "The City" in July

Colin was gracious enough to climb with me all day Saturday (Emily had to work) and we had a super fun time climbing in the Trapps.  Unfortunately our plan to climb both pitches of Modern Times kept getting snuffed out by a slow party of 3 on the GT ledge.  We climbed the first pitch, but the thrilling, wild second pitch is what we were aiming for.  We would climb something else, then check back, only to find the party was still there.  I bet those 2 followers never got up that pitch, as one of them made it about 10 feet off the ledge and no further in the time it took me to belay Colin up the entire first pitch. Oh well, Modern Times will be there for us another day.

The spiciest route we did Saturday was Never Neverland.  Pretty sustained smooth face climbing (slabby smooth) and at the 5.10a grade keeps your attention.  Thanks to Colin for leading that one so I could try it on the security of a top rope. Great route!

On Sunday, Colin and Emily invited us to go the the Lost City with them.  Brian and I were both chomping at the bit for this, because this area is not in the guidebooks and is a gem of a place.  There are not a lot of moderate climbs to lead there as most of the established routes are 5.10 and up. But there is a warm up area that had a handful of moderates for us to enjoy and that is exactly what we did.  And many of the routes are easily top roped, so if you cannot lead at a certain grade, you can walk to the top and find or build an anchor and play all you like on the top rope setup.

Colin gave us all a spectating treat as he masterfully climbed a 5.11+ finger crack route Persistence.  The wall is overhanging and the crack climbing is sustained on this beautiful line.  Emily adeptly handled his belay as we all watched in amazement. Brian and I each tied in after the rope was set up. I love finger cracks, but this one was far more serious than I expected and just getting the finger locks scared me since the overhanging nature of the wall could mean my feet could cut out suddenly - which may result in all weight hanging from these finger locks and breaking or straining the fingers.  I'm too old for this shit! It's a shame, but it's true. It just not worth it to ruin a finger and put myself out of climbing business. So I just didn't try too hard.  Ah, youth. what I would give to be 24 again, especially if I was climbing!
Colin sending a 5.11+ finger crack called Persistence at Lost City

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Where's Blanche?

Just about 36 hours after my last post concerning the white stuff that fell from the sky, another storm roared up the eastern coast and blanketed states as far south as Virginia with an early snow.  They predicted 5 to 8 inches of accumulation here in south central Vermont, but I don't think we saw more than 3 or 4 inches by the time it was all said and done.  Blanche was a bit camouflaged in the driveway though...
3-4 inches of heavy, wet white stuff

No climbing this weekend. But admittedly, sometimes this is a blessing in disguise.  An extremely stressful work week necessitates some real downtime now and then, so the rotten weather actually encouraged me to just sleep in, read, chill out and catch up on personal duties and home chores.  Sounds boring and while climbing is definitely more fun, getting things done and having time to relax brings great satisfaction.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

White Stuff and a Soap Box

I've been meaning to get in some blog time the past couple of weeks but have gotten behind due to the busy nature of work (a four letter word, I say) and life (another 4 letter word, but without the implied negative connotation). Anyway, the climbing season is sadly drawing to a close here in New England.  We have been fortunate to have some unusually mild weather in October. I have now been to the Farley Ledges twice to climb and am excited to find a new place for craggin. It's not much more of a drive than the drive to Rumney. It is south so tends to be warmer. And the rock is Gneiss (nice!)  There are some trad lines to be had but the established sport routes are of good quality.

It was in the 40s this morning with a cold rain accompaniment. But by day's end, the temps had plummeted and the drive home was unpleasant.  Check out this shot Annie took from her car on the drive home through Southern Vermont.

Route 100 today - our first accumulating snowfall
I hear our friends out in Colorado got smacked this week with the white stuff, too. I saw it on the news and heard that only 2 days prior to their snowstorm they had broken the high temperature record of 80 degrees!  Of course the difference is when it melts and warms up there they can still go climbing. Here it is most unlikely.  I was planning to go to the Gunks again this weekend - and although the sun is supposed to shine a fair amount, temps in the low to mid 40s can be pretty miserable multi-pitching. And it's a long drive for 2 days in the cold.  Maybe we will get lucky like we did 4 years ago and get a warm weekend in November before we store the rack and move back to the artificial walls.

My experiences at Farley the past 2 weekends have left me with a bittersweet taste.  The climbing is good (very good) and the folks in the Western Massachusetts Climber's Coalition are to be commended. The access, maintenance and route development are outstanding accomplishments, all of which greatly benefit the weekend warrior like me. But what is it about the "sport climbing scene" that is so repulsive to me?  Without getting too far up on my soapbox, I'll say this. I believe that rock climbing has changed dramatically in recent years (I started climbing in 1992) and the growth of the sport may be attributed to the explosion of indoor climbing gyms.  The problem is that people learn to CLIMB in the gym, but they don't learn how to be CLIMBERS there.  When they take their "skills" to the real rock in a real outdoor environment, they are oblivious to things like impact, personal boundaries and climbing ethics.  I couldn't possibly count how many times I have witnessed sloppy (read "DANGEROUS") belaying, mouthy and disrespectful people and uncontrolled DOGS at the crags.  In fact, the dog thing seems to be TOTALLY out of control this year alone!  It seems everyone feels they have the right to bring their dog to the crags and let them have the run of the place.

Now anyone who knows me knows I LOVE dogs and I have been a dog owner most if not all of my adult life.  Annie and I would love to take Grace to the crags so she could be with us in a great outdoor setting - a Grace is a well-behaved dog.  But it simply is not appropriate - crags and cliffs are NO PLACE FOR DOGS. But I digress.  Perhaps I will blog on the dog issue again later. I just wanted to express my malcontent and frustration with people at the sport crags.

Yes, there are jerks everywhere and we certainly run across jerks at traditional climbing areas.  But the sport areas seem to be a magnet for jerks - and I think it is a direct product of the gym-to-rock phenomenon.  Last Saturday at Farley, there was a large group of climbers doing the usual social thing at the base of the cliffs. Some were climbing and belaying, some watching, many just hanging out and chatting it up.  A few beers were snapped open (and yes, some of these same beer drinkers were climbing, too) and then the weed came out.  Now I could care less if you want to smoke dope - really.  But to do it at the crag, ESPECIALLY a place like Farley which is on privately owned land, is just plain inconsiderate and disrespectful.  The landowners have been kind enough to allow climbing to be developed here and I would wager to say that if they found out people were smoking dope on their property, the cliff access would be lost faster than you can say "want a hit?" The inevitable lies ahead: Farley Ledge - CLOSED DUE TO IDIOTS. NO TRESPASSING.

Comments? Please post them here on the blog.  If I am not alone in this thinking, perhaps we can fashion a way to help educate the idiots and save our climbing resources today and for future climbers.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Cascading Crystal Kaleidoscope

As implied in the previous Gunks post, the climb Cascading Crystal Kaleidoscope (better known as CCK) has a great photo op on the final pitch.  Leaving the comfort of the big Updraft corner, you step gingerly down and across the clean face to join a vertical hand crack/flake that leads straight up under a huge roof area.  While the CCK Direct route climbs up over these roof systems (at a much harder grade) the original line traverse right under the roof for some exciting exposure and balance moves.  Annie took this pic of me on this pitch - you can see why it is such a great vantage point.

The CCK traverse....ooooohh
Smile for the camera!

I was thinking of starting a caption CONTEST for this one!
Please post your ideas!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Gunkie Junkies

Wow, after all the September rains we were treated to about 6 days in a row of spectacular summer-like weather.  Let's go to the Gunks!  Annie and I drove Blanche down Wednesday night, slept in the stairmaster parking lot and got a good start Thursday morning.  Thursday we got on Horseman, and Strictly From Nowhere, but the highlight climb for me was Snooky's Return whose first pitch is a thin crack.  I found the crux to be right at the bottom but really enjoyed the entire line from there.

Friday we were joined by Rosie and Brian  and we all enjoyed another stellar day on the cliffs. Rosie savored her first climb of the classic High Exposure line, probably one of the best known climbs at the Gunks.  Brian recommended I try The Last Will be First and, as promised, the climbing was great fun -some spicy face climbing with a slight lack of pro and a couple of fun roofs! CCK was next on the agenda and unfortunately I once again got freaked out about the unprotected crux on Pitch 2.  Rich Gottlieb, owner of Rock and Snow, to the rescue (again!)  This time however I pumped out while trying to work out the moves and the resulting fall was nothing to laugh about. SCARY!  But again, due to my competent belayer Annie and the foresight to reduce the amount of rope out before the fall, I came away with just a minor ankle tweak.  I re-climbed the pitch (thanks to Rich leaving me some extended pro above the crux) and we devoured the last, classic exposed pitch finish that everyone lives for.

On Saturday the crowds for the Columbus Day holiday weekend descended upon the cliffs.  It was so crowded Annie and I chose to take the long hike down to Sleepy Hollow and endure the hunt for a highly recommended beginner route Casa Emilio.  Annie lead the top pitch with aplomb. Her crown jewel, however, was taking the sharp end on her first 5.6 trad climb - she sent Rhododendron! This is a great first 5.6 lead as it sews up nicely (being the crack that it is, with ample face holds to ease the grade).  Way to go Annie! Sorry I couldn't take any photos while belaying!  Sunday Annie ticked off another great lead, this time the multi-pitch line on Beginner's Delight.  The route's name is somewhat misleading as beginning leaders have no place on this climb.  There is a long traverse, a roof and route finding to boot!  Annie had lead pitches 1 and 3 before and added the pitch 2 traverse to her belt notch this time. Thanks to Marie (our funny Canadian friend) for the photos!
Annie starting up Pitch 2 of Beginner's Delight

Leading the traverse
Note the copperhead on the red and grey pack!
The weather was so warm the Copperhead snakes decided to make plentiful appearances.  A Sunday snake visit came from the skies - a copperhead simply fell from some place above on the cliffs and landed on Annie's pack at the bottom of the climb.  After some time it crawled from her pack to Rosie's pack before slithering away.  The cooler weather ought to drive them back into hiding - I hope!

Rosie took this pic with her phone from the High E ledge.
This is Annie following a great route "The Last Will Be First"

Monday, October 3, 2011

Vermont Strong

The rains in Vermont are persistent.  While there have been some nice weather days the past few weeks, overall it has been wet.  I heard one weather forecaster say that we are on track for beating the record of the wettest year ever recorded. No doubt. No duh.

We helped out a neighbor Saturday morning with the daunting and unending firewood chores.  Jim Hasson is 85 years old and he heats his house entirely on wood - burns about 17 cords a year he said! That's a LOT of wood! And of course he lost most if not all of his firewood in the storm - swept away in the flooded Knapp Brook.  His son Jimmy's car took a ride in the brook, too.

Jimmy's car was deposited as such. As he told me, the car moved about 50+ feet from its original parked location

Well, at least it didn't go as far downstream as the wood did.  The town donated many log lengths to Jim when they heard of his plight. These were all logs cleared up from the various debris fields, so it was just a matter of getting it up the hill to him and then cutting, splitting and stacking it.  On Wednesday Annie and I drove a small pickup load of dry wood donated from Nina to Jim's.  Lots of folks have been doing this and Jim is so moved by everyone's generosity. But the real work now is in cutting and splitting, so we helped out with that on Saturday - in the rain of course!  This work is hard, but when you have 5 or 6 people it makes it far less miserable.  I was pleased to see a young kid (Matt) ride up on his bike and just start pitching in to help.  Boy, does he have the right idea!  Most kids his age would be playing video games.

That's Jim, 85, on the left. Annie, Jean, Matt and Mike L to R.

Our state is recovering, but it will be years I'm sure before some parts of the state get back to normal.  It is peak foliage season now and our economy depends on the leaf peepers to come up and spend their dollars.  Folks are still speculating on how much the storm's impacts will ultimately affect this key part of the season.  Lots of fundraising efforts are out there, so if you aren't local but want to help, just Google your way around and give how you can. One such effort is the sale of T-shirts which helps provide springboard funding for flood victims.  To find out more visit the I Am Vermont Strong website at

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Firery Reds of Indian Summer

Got up to North Conway (NH) this past weekend and found the colors to be unusually spectacular on the west side of the Kancamangus Hwy - meaning more reds than I have noticed before. Strangely, once on the east side of the pass and in North Conway itself the colors are muted, not even close to what we see west of the pass. The temperatures the past few days are abnormally high.

View north from the Kancamangus Pass, White Mtns, NH
While is rained up until Friday night, Saturday was cloudy and humid.  The stillness and humidity did not provide for fast drying on the cliffs. After killing some time looking at the very wet route starts at Whitehorse Ledge and Cathedral Ledge, we retreated to climbing plan B - go to the local climbing shop!  Always fun to stop into IME and cruise the consignment shop - or just plain "talk shop" with the owner and staff.  After killing a little time there we decided to take a peek at Humphrey's Ledge to see if we could find anything dry.  While most routes were indeed soaked, we found all dry rock on Wanderlust.  A fun face climb with a tricky little crux for us shorter folks.

 Then Sunday we thoroughly enjoyed Toe Crack and the 2 Saigon routes on the Thin Air face. It had been quite a while since I had climbed these, so it was a fun revisit.

Temps are scheduled to get cooler beginning tomorrow and into the end of the week, along with the dreaded rains again.  But we sure have enjoyed these past few sunny, hot days.

Friday, September 23, 2011

"Danger Ruts"

Well, it has been almost exactly one month since Irene annihilated our great State of Vermont. Recovery is quick in some views and painfully slow in other views.  The road crews have been tremendous in working sun up to sun down 7 days a week.  Many roads are still closed around here, but new openings occur every week. The drive to and from Ludlow to Reading (and such parts) goes on beautiful back roads.  There is this funny place on one of the roads where a dip or rut is. To provide caution to local drivers, someone was kind enough to put signs up in each direction warning of the rut.  I guess whoever created the signs had a dearth of materials though.  Red spray paint on a small cardboard box makes for a somewhat comical warning.
Can't help but wonder how long this sign will hold up
I've been able to do a little climbing in the past month.  Feel sort of guilty leaving the town behind with so much more homes to cleanup.  But we keep checking in and offering to help where and when we can. There is a good email system letting folks know who needs help and when.

Annie and I made it over to Poke-O-Moonshine in the Adirondacks and climbed all pitches of the classic Gamesmanship.  We had done this route 4 years ago and I got spanked on the fourth pitch.  I figured this time with much better weather conditions and improved skills it wouldn't present a problem. I was wrong. The 4th pitch is a beautiful "hand crack" (translates to "off-fists" for me).  It is rated only 5.7+ compared to the first pitch crux rating of 5.8+.  I had to French Free the damned thing to keep from pumping out and falling off!  The first pitch is long and sustained, but in my opinion not nearly as hard as Pitch 4.  The crack presents itself to me like this: when the hands get more secure the feet are terrible - when the feet get more secure (read "painful") the hands are lousy (way too wide). Makes for some interesting and strenuous climbing.  There are no face features to bail you out - it is pure jamming, so if your appendages don't fit the crack, get ready to grunt!  This is another typical example of a climb being rated by men with large hands. I am sure it is 5.7+ for Mr. Big Hands!  Pitch 1 was more my style and great fun.

Anyhoo, the ride over there is darned nice if you break it up with a ferry ride.  Here is a short video on the "approach" to Poke-O.

Now it's raining again, but it should subside enough to get on some rock before the end of the day Sunday.  I had an AMC trip to co-lead on Whitehorse which was postponed to Sunday...looks like I won't be needed since the trip is no longer filled due to weather regrets. So Annie and I will hope to get on some cracks up there on Whitehorse or Cathedral.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Wetter is NOT Better!

Just a little more than one week after Vermont was devastated by tropical storm Irene, the steady rain remnants from Lee continue to wreak havoc.  I never before recall in my lifetime seeing this type of destruction in such a widespread area.  Since the storm on August 28th, large equipment such as backhoes and bucket loaders have been out in force.  I wish an aerial view could capture how many of these mechanical monsters are out there all day, every day, raking, scraping, digging and dredging. Just a photo of a one mile square area could make the point - they are everywhere, working frantically.  Flash flood warnings have been streaming in all week as we get another 1 to 4 inches of rain on already saturated ground and in the stream and riverbeds.

Route 106 washout along the Black River (some 70+ feet below!) - this is 4 miles south of us

Everyone in our town continues to chip in and do all they can to help those most seriously affected.  Heather has made great progress and has qualified for FEMA money. On Monday, Annie and I joined a small team of folks to dig out the 6 inches of dark, heavy river mud from another neighbor's cellar.  This mud looks and feels like cement mix, ready to mortar some bricks or stones.  When you stand in this stuff it is difficult to step out of it as it sucks your foot in like a hungry swamp beast.  One shovelful and bucketful at a time are carried up the steep and narrow cellar steps to the bucket loader waiting outside.  The bucket loader then motors down the street to a dumpster and plunks the gook in.

1969 Gravely awaiting final rescue after hand digging

Lisa and Wayne's surreal yard with swing set and
flowers in the foreground for profound effect

Thanks to good friends and family members who own and operate earth moving equipment, Lisa and Wayne's place is really shaping up.  This was the place whose yard became a huge boulder field.  Their cellar and garage are all dug out and even the 1969 Gravely has been rescued from the rocky debris!

To my surprise, Lisa showed up with shovel and gloves to help the digging team Monday! I said "What are YOU doing here?" She said "I am so tired of digging out my own house I thought I'd come down here to help." Wow.

Needless to say we haven't been climbing much.  The rains have not only made much of the rock unfavorable, but while the weather was good there was cleanup work to be done.  We took a break on Saturday and got in some routes in northern Vermont where we had never climbed before.  I was quite surprised that the rock was dry enough to climb.  It dried as we climbed and by end of day was pretty decent!

This is my favorite time of year to climb in the Adirondacks (fondly, "the DAKs").  However, the Keene Valley where so much of the great climbing is located was also up-ended by Irene.  Roads are closed and washed out throughout the region there, and homes were destroyed and damaged.

I have been pondering the environmental impacts of this storm a lot lately.  Any marine life that existed before in the streams and rivers is completely wiped out I expect. Fish gone. What about the insects, earthworms, snakes and frogs that live in the wetlands, fields and near the waterways?  And then there's the TRASH and debris.  All across the affected areas there is litter - some from washing downstream and being deposited on land that otherwise is a long way from the water. Tree limbs, weeds and grass-like debris were all swept across open areas and lodged against obstacles such as other trees, banks, walls and bridges.  And lastly, the rebuilding and cleanup efforts are so intense and urgent that the impact of truck traffic, cars and foot traffic seems unprecedented. I expect our roads will be in terrible shape this winter as the heavy trucks take their toll on the pavement which is already cracked and heaved from previous winters. Funds will certainly be exhausted so that normally scheduled repairs are likely to take a back seat or fall off entirely.  All of this at a time when our environment and economy is so fragile.  I find it hard to be optimistic considering all of this.  Where is the silver lining? Can someone show me please?

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Video Documentation of Irene

Here is a 13 minute video (with some humor as well) chronicling the storm in our town. It includes the hatching of a chick - we named the first chick to survive in honor of the storm. Irene is now 5 days old and doing well.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Hurricane Irene

Sunday was my birthday and I have so much to be thankful for.  My brother and sister-in-law called that morning and we had a fun morning chat full of laughs and stories. Then my mother called and instead of her usual practiced voice song, she spent all morning in her house finding the right size glasses, filling them with just the right amount of water until getting each musical note just right. And then she practiced and perfected the Happy Birthday song with a spoon tapping each glass.  She played this for me over the phone and I was astounded - delighted - tickled.  She said she was up since 6am getting this all together.  Some special mom, eh?

Saturday Annie, Carol and I had a fantastic day of climbing on our nearby cliffs. It was the calm before the storm as we had been preparing for Hurricane Irene to arrive. She came and when she hit she did so with a powerful punch!  We were forecasted to get up to 7 inches of rain and 45-55 MPH sustained winds with higher gusts.  Here in southern VT the high winds never came. But the rain sure did and we measured well over 8 inches of rain in our rain gauge.

The wash out on Route 106 in Reading
On Monday morning the skies were crystal clear, bright blue and the sun shined like a spotlight upon the debris and horrific damage caused by the storm.  In our town the Twenty Mile stream raged past Main Street (Route 106) just barely north of the bridge and instead of destroying the bridge it was diverted by large debris (mostly trees I think) and tossed the asphalt pavement around like child's building block toys.   Near its path were several houses, none of which were swept away or ruined but were badly flooded.  A good friend whose home is on the south side of the torrent was away on vacation.  Her house was cut off from assistance until Tuesday when a local community member volunteered his own time and equipment to dam the stream. He redirected the flow back under the bridge, then filled in enough stone and gravel that we could walk across to Heather's house.  (She was driving frantically home from her vacation in Kentucky). The damage to her place is disheartening.  The water punched a hole in the side of the foundation and ripped through the basement carrying debris and tons of river sand and silt. Unfortunately, as a result this some of her furnace fuel oil leaked or spilled.  The house in inhabitable until professional advice is received on proper removal or cleanup of the hazardous waste.  (Hopefully when power is restored the main breaker is off!)  Her dogs were all rescued by the folks looking after them while she was away (before the storm hit they were evacuated) and the cats who were left to their own devices with plenty of food and water on the second floor needed to be evacuated once we gained access to the house and smelled the fuel.

The construction crews are making great progress on Route 106 and soon we should be able to drive out of town to the south again.  Everyone who resides near the stream or lies low is still busy pumping out water, cleaning up river mud and repairing damages.  Of those affected, no one here who I have spoken to yet has flood insurance.  However, there is hope that FEMA funding may be able to help those people.  I remain hopeful, despite the horror stories I have heard on federal assistance funds getting to those in need after a disaster.

Helicopters are buzzing about the skies.  Large dump trucks are roaring to and fro with loads of fill dirt and gravel for road repair.  What is most different however, is the feeling around town and in the state.  Everyone wants to know how everyone else is doing and if they can help.  It brings us closer together. I am getting to know the names of people in my town I have never met before!  Most chip in where they can, although sometimes it is frustrating knowing who, where and how to help.  In our case, we are doing what we can to help Heather who is alone there and can use a few friends to assist in the cleanup.  She has a home-based business of doggy care, so getting her back to work and living in her own home is critical.  I can only imagine what it would feel like if it had been our home.  In times like these, it lends tremendous perspective.  We are lucky we suffered no real damage to our property and our town is lucky it fared better than places south of here, many who are still completely isolated and without power or water.  When we watch the impact of natural disasters, wartime refugees and epidemic disease on the news, we are often horrified and helpless.  The earthquake in Haiti. The BP oil "spill." Middle eastern and African conflicts driving refugees out of their countries.  The quake in Japan. But when disaster strikes YOU or those all around you, the impact is no longer surreal. Yup - lends perspective.
Heather's house swallowed in river mud

Up the road these folks now have nothing
 but boulders for a backyard.

I will be putting some video on YouTube including footage during the storm and publish here in the blog as well.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


I put together a slide show on the iMac with a sampling of photos from the whole trip. It is on my YouTube channel as well, and you may have to view it there instead ( - look for "Cruxtopia: The Beginning"). It was intended for private viewing only and I used a copywrited song (shame, shame), so it may be restricted here on Blogger. Give it a go and let me know via comments if it goes south on ya.

Monday, August 8, 2011


I updated some posts from June at Yosemite (Half Dome) and Lover's Leap (Corrugation Corner). Enjoy!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season)

The Byrds hit song (withe lyrics of biblical origin, of course) resonates through my mind today.  Just over 2 weeks ago I was climbing, travelling and visiting friends and family.  This week, the tables turned when Annie received the dreaded yet long anticipated phone call that her mother had died.  This entire week has been full of deep sorrow and reflection as the family gathered to take care of the necessary details, offer comfort to their father and each other.  Tears, laughter and at times silence filled the surrounding air.

But I am not writing to deliberate the detailed emotions and circumstances of the death of a loved one.  Instead, I am considering the impact this has on our psyche. "Life is short" folks often proclaim.  Life is indeed both fragile and finite.  And when someone who we have known for a long time is suddenly gone from our life, we cannot help but contemplate our own fragility and consider what is most meaningful and significant in the "big picture."

I also cannot figure out what has happened to the speed of time.  It seems to me (and most all others I commiserate with) that our lives are more full and busy than ever before, leaving us little to no time to really LIVE and experience the things most important to us.  Most of us have to work - okay that takes up 8 hours a day (plus commuting). We need to eat (add 1.5 hours on a generous day). We need to sleep (add 8 hours, less if you think you can still be rested and healthy on less sleep). We need to clean up after ourselves (dishes, house clean, etc. Add 1 hour and that's conservative).  Then we need to attend to the regular minutiae such as bathing/showering, personal hygiene, garbage collection, recycling, grass cutting or snow shoveling, etc, etc. (add 1.5 hours, again conservative).  Add today's more modern tasks of handling finances, checking and responding to email, and phone calls and you now are up to well over 22 hours per day.  In a "perfect" world,  might we have 1 to 2 hours of time remaining to (get ready for the next word) RELAX? Read a book? Take a nap? Go for a walk? Sit quietly? Hold on - what about daily exercise?! I didn't even count that in the daily minutiae (which it is not!).  So what ARE we left with?

During my travel and climbing adventures, my days became quite delightfully distilled.  A typical climbing day was comprised of waking up, stretching and warming up the body and/or mind for the day, eating some breakfast, packing the climbing gear, approaching and climbing the rock faces, descending, returning to camp, relaxing with a cold brew and contemplating the climbing, making and eating some dinner, then off to bed.  OK, to be fair there are a few additional minutiae omitted such as washing up and personal hygiene.  But note what is missing from the list: work - housecleaning - handling finances, phone calls and email - home chores - commuting.  One could argue some similarities between the "real life" list and this list - you could liken the climbing approach to commuting"or could legitimately claim that phone calls and emails are still handled if you carry a mobile device.  But I can guarantee you on my trip I did not participate in these activities every single day and while some days were more filled with activity than others, it was simplicity that ruled the agenda, not complexity.

So how do we get back to this today? What really is important?  Do you have a faith-based system to guide you and if not, how do you resolve it all?  I am still trying to figure this all out and while I know there is no silver bullet, I do run across many people who seem to have it under control.  I am seeking strategies and secrets to simplify life and stay focused on what really matters most.  In the meantime, I hope to get back to some sense of normalcy soon, which of course includes climbing.  And when I get the TIME, I will retro-post photos and stories of the trip.  "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven."

Monday, July 25, 2011

Back to the Future

Esther looked like this on May 1st,
 and  also when I arrived home
 eleven weeks later

I got home to Vermont a few days ago.  Arriving home was so sweet actually, because, after all, it is HOME! Of course Annie and Grace were there to greet me as soon as I drove in (how wonderful to see them!)  When I left May 1st I don't think the trees were even budded out yet - now everything is brilliant green from the warmth and moisture of the New England summer.  The inside of the house looked and felt a little different when I first entered - although it hasn't truly changed.  It is funny how our minds fool us somehow, dontchya think? What I mean is that when you are away for a while, things always look a little different when you come back.  The dog looks a little fatter or darker or something.  The yard looks a little smaller in size. The walls look brighter or lighter. The cat looks...  well, ok, the cat looks EXACTLY the same!!! The goats were mostly indifferent to my arrival - except for Purslane who is smart and came running over to me for her kisses. The kids look good. And Tuni hasn't changed one lick.

I was smart and allowed myself several days of "re-entry" - a transition period.  I figured that after being away for almost 11 weeks and living the leisure life of climbing most anywhere and anytime I wanted (a little stretch, but in principle, not really), I would need some time to unpack and settle in before getting back to the routine.  In my first few days home I have received calls for assistance with computers - not surprising really. So I hopped right back in today and made calls, appointments and caught up on emails or loose ends.  Why is it that when you plan an extended trip it takes weeks, months, even years to prepare for it and get everything ready, but as soon as you return it take mere minutes to get back into the old routine again? Maybe that's why they call it "routine?"

Well, from a climber's perspective I played my cards quite nicely.  Northern New England suffered a LOT of rainy weather while I was out west enjoying abundant sunshine (the weather apps I used even call it that "abundant sunshine"!) Granted I have returned to some pretty hot and humid weather, but it is late July and this stuff doesn't last (in fact today it was quite cool again with some light rain).  I have another 2 months of good climbing weather to look forward to and hope to get all over those rocks in the Adirondacks, North Conway and Franconia Notch.  Besides, I improved my crack climbing skills so I can't wait to get on some of the cracks on Spider's Web, Cannon, Cathedral and Whitehorse. (Quick! Before I forget what I've learned!!!) Now that I am back at work, I just need the weather gods and goddesses to synchronize the good stuff with the weekends.

Kim and Mars from Australia,
posed in front of their Eurovan
with Blanche in the background
I received a nice email from a climbing couple I met in California - they are Australians on a one year hiatus from work/home life to climb all over the US, Canada and perhaps Europe.  They bought a 2002 Eurovan in CA and of course we immediately began the van-speak when we saw each other at Lover's Leap campground.  A super fun couple.  Kim hit the nail on the head when she emailed me about returning home. She said the best way to deal with getting back to the routine of work and all the not-so-exciting feelings associated with that is to immediately start planning your next trip!  She is so correct - and I do that everytime.  If I do not have some sort of climbing adventure planned I am lost.  So not only do we have the rest of our summer weekends planned out, we are talking about next year when Annie turns 60 and another far-away climbing when adventure tour must be arranged.

One more thought. If you are actually one of the few people following this blog, please know that I am retro-blogging, now that I am home and have sorted through some photos. I have already told a story about climbing in Yosemite that replaced a previous iPhone blog post which was not detailed.  I will continue to do this as time allows and I hope folks will check back often and comment.

(Side Note: If you are interested in following Kim's climbing and travel blog, it can be found at

Monday, July 18, 2011

It's a Long Way To Tipperary

The old wartime marching song comes to mind when I consider the long drive east.  It is a catchy tune and it represents a longing for home.  Once the day came that the climbing part of my journey would cease and the traveling would recommence, my heart and mind were evermore drawn to Vermont.  Of course the climbing will continue since it is summer and the best time to climb in New England is August, September and October anyway.  I want everyone back home in New Hampshire and Vermont to be sure all of the biting black flies, mosquitoes and deer flies are gone in time for my arrival.

But the route home has taken me to Maryland first, where I have been visiting my mother.  It is always fun to go back to my roots - to the home where I was born and raised - and of course spending time with my mom is always a nice treat.  It was no treat getting here, however.  I made the drive in five long days from Almo, Idaho to Owings Mills, Maryland.

Curious sign in Nebraska
Those 5 days were generally uneventful.  I traveled through southern Wyoming again on interstate 80.  The State of Nebraska took a full day.  The temperature was in the high 90s and the humidity hit me like a freight train.  By the time I reached my destination campground, I was thoroughly wrung out.  Sweat was pouring off me just as I sat at the picnic table.  (Look for my upcoming "Bug or Windshield" post for details of this day).  Before continuing, I stopped in Omaha for an appointment to get Blanche her needed service.  She got her oil changed, some new wiper blades and they plugged a slow leak in one tire (found a nail in it).  Iowa hadn't changed since I drove through in May (although the corn was a lot higher.)  I headed for Champaign, Illinois that day to tick off another 525 mile day.  Since I was headed in this direction to cut a little south to I-70, I embraced a great suggestion made by Annie and her best friend Marta.  Marta's parents live in Champaign and would be tickled to have a visitor.  Since 50 is young from an 89 year old perspective, I would be a breath of fresh air!  My overnight visit with Bert and Bat (yup - fun nicknames!) was delightful.  When I approach 90 years of age, if I can have the attitude, spunk and smarts of these folks I will be thrilled (not to mention surprised!)  Bat (Marta's mom) is still mowing the lawn, gardening and waterproofing the decks at age 88!  And she won't have it any other way. Hey - if I can still mow the lawn at 88, you better believe I'll still be tying in and climbing the rocks, too!  Special thanks to special people who so generously opened their home and hearts to me on my travels.
Bat and Bert - they've seen and lived through a lot and they love life
In contrast to much of Illinois, Indianapolis appears to be a thriving city (opined via the van window at 65 MPH of course). Ohio is what I expected - just plain Ohio.  On the last day of my journey towards Mom's house, I stopped into my alma mater for a peek.  This probably was only the second time I have visited my college since I graduated in 1982.  Walking about campus percolates memories and feelings, most of which are pleasurable (I loved my college, Frostburg State University).  I walked the halls of the PE and Athletic building where I spent the most of my time back then - including a trot through the Hall of Fame corridor (my plaque is hidden behind a gymnasium door - sigh - but I am in good company).  The lacrosse coach and I chatted and she took me down to the turf field (of course we played on grass in my day).  And certainly it was fun checking out the town streets I once walked, the pubs I frequented and my old off-campus rental house.

The most dramatic observation I had while driving through western Maryland was the abundance of State Police on the highway, especially making traffic stops.  I saw several stops which were clearly beyond the usual moving violations.  Multiple cars were being stopped, and searched and I saw handcuffed young people in the grass.  Must have been a big bust or something.  I was never able to find anything in the news about it.  Regardless of these observations, I feel like the presence of law enforcement in Maryland has been greater than any other state I have travelled in on this trip.  Either law enforcement is well funded in this state or I am seeing double.  Likely there is an explanation I am not coming up with.

One of the great things about summer in Maryland is the bugs.  The lightning bugs (that's what we always called them instead of fireflies) are out each evening and the cricket chorus is deafening each night.  There is nothing quite like the sound of those katyids. This is the high side of bug life and human-insect coexistence - unlike the bugs at home which swarm, bite and generally get what they want from us. Out with the biters and in with the show bugs I say!  I will be back home in Vermont soon.
Another iPhone self-shot of me and Mom. She looks pretty fantastic for 82, eh?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The City in All Its Splendor!

The City of Rocks has to be one of my favorite places to climb and to simply BE. Nestled in the Sawtooth range of southern Idaho, this magical place has a history as rich as its sights. Around the gold rush era of the 19th century, folks traveled through these parts in their wagon trains and found it to be a great place to stay on their way to California.

Check out a more detailed history at the National Park Service's site

There is plenty to do here even if you aren't a climber. I noticed that it attracts a lot of families - plenty of young couples there with young kids and dogs - lots-o-dogs! However, "The City" is very well known for its rock climbing. There is something here for climbers of almost all levels and types. Trad, sport, mixed. Single pitch and multi-pitch. Easy approaches and more arduous ones.

My first visit here 5 years ago was in the fall. October is a great time to climb here, although the weather can be chilly, especially at night.  May and June of this year turned out to be unusually cool and rainy and as a result, by the time I arrived the first of July, the wildflowers and the green pastureland were beaming in full, brilliant color.
Beauty in The City!
There were some pretty hot days, especially around the holiday weekend.  But the great thing about the climbing here is that you can chase the shade.  The rock formations face all sorts of directions - north/south, east/west.

This is moderate mecca. Oodles of quality routes from 5.7 to 5.10+.  Beth and I were both hoping to get on some routes we had never climbed before.  (She has climbed her 3 or 4 times before as she is just a day's drive away).  There are many classics here and we certainly enjoyed ticking some off.  We also jumped on some less popular routes and discovered some fun throughout the park.  With the July heat being pretty intense by mid-day, we developed a sort of daily routine: Climb until about noon or 1:00 pm, then take a long break in our camp chairs under a shade tree. We would eat lunch, perhaps read and often take a nap! The we would head back out about 3:00 or 4:00 and climb another route or two.  Cold beer and dinner back at camp, then off to bed and wake up the next day and start it all over again!  Not too bad a life.

Columbine and rock

Memorable climbs are as follows:

*Snakes and Ladders (short but sweet)
***Rye Crisp (super fun super flake)
**Conceptual Reality (the ultimate hybrid route - watch out for fire ants at the base!
**Scream Cheese (exciting face climb with juggy crux)
***Private Idaho (fun and easier than it looks)
***Colossus (super juggy fun sport route)
***Coffee & Cornflakes (another jug-fest sport route)
**Fall Line (easy or hard on bolts)
***Thin Slice (excellent & varied, more mental than physical)
**Batwings (memorable because I fell on this one, after flailing on the harder direct start! Don't take this one for granted!)

Wild roses at the City
This is a place to return to again and again.

Terrific camping.
Caring park staff.
Endless climbing.
Forgiving, friendly rock.
Great food and socializing in town.
Easy approaches.
Moderate mecca.

The City just plain ROCKS!!!

Morning Glory Spire and Anteater formations 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Just posting a few photos from the iPhone to catch up. Unique formations at Vedauwoo, WY.

Beer Buddies

Met Josh & Dave and shared brew and stories. Thanks guys!

Rock City

Yes , that really is the name of the establishment in Almo, ID which caters to climbers wonderfully. Everyone hangs out on the porch drinking microbrew, eating pizza and exchanging stories

Top of The City

Self-shot of me and partner Beth from Colorado on top of the Morning Glory Spire at City of Rocks, ID.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

VW Heaven???

I'll post date this entry later, but just wanted to get this photo of the back yard at J's VW shop in Reno, NV where I took Blanche last Wednesday for a few checkups. Thanks to Brett. Martin, John and Jerry for friendly and fair service!

Rockin' in the City

I arrived in the City of Rocks (Idaho) and met these 2 young climbers from (of all places) New Paltz, NY (home of the gunks). We climbed together all day mostly enjoying the beauty of the Circle Creek/North Fork area where I had never been. It is turning hot here for the holiday weekend and the place is crawling with climbers. My next partner in climb, Beth, arrives this evening. We plan to enjoy a full week in "The City."
Thanks to Emily and Colin for a great day yesterday!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Hospital Corner

If you like a big stemming corner with hand jams, finger locks and laybacks, and if you want to climb like that for some 120 feet, visit Hospital Corner (5.10a) at Lover's Leap. This is one of the most spectacular pitches of climbing I have done and is most memorable. I have no photos of this climb so here is one I borrowed from Mountain Project.
Photo credit goes to "Annie from Bishop"
The first pitch goes at 5.8 and has a tricky crux.  The second pitch is of course the money pitch.  I found it very sustained and technical.  The stems are BIG requiring more flexibility in the legs than I truly have - as a result I was quite sore the next day!  If this is your limit you will likely find this to be a thrilling whole-body workout.  Climb it well and you won't be spending any time in the hospital!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sorry Charlie

On Friday we climbed one of the best 5.8s at the Leap, Haystack. This photo was taken while the infamous Charlie Winger was racking up for pitch one - as he sorted through my gear to rack up, apparently he wanted me to know what he thought of my hexes!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Fun in the California Sun

A quick stop in a Nevada County library allows me a little catch-up time. I'll need to post more photos later however. I have been in the South Lake Tahoe region now for just over a week, climbing entirely at Lover's Leap.  There is so much rock around here it makes my neck sore.  I haven't yet explored beyond the fabulous and fun cliffs at Lover's Leap.  There are so many classic moderate climbs at the Leap that there has not yet been any need to venture further.  It is so convenient to be able to climb from the campground.  When I got in the van this morning to drive Charlie and Randy to the airport, it took me a few moments to remember how to drive! Where is reverse? How do I shift? What does this big round wheel do?

The landscape changes dramatically when you go over the mountain passes above Lake Tahoe and east into the valley below in Nevada.  It becomes a desert environment again. And it didn't take long to be re-immersed in the un-pleasantries of the Nevada way of life. Casinos, sprawl, heat, unfriendly people and gas stations that do not accept credit cards. That's right - I cannot fill my tank at the unless I pay cash or use a DEBIT card. I suppose Nevada businesses are all about making the money now, not later. What a crock! I guess I'll have to choose between $4.10/gal gas in CA or $3.70/gal gas in Nevada cash only.

Meredith and I will stock up on supplies, do some laundry then climb a few more days before heading out this Thursday I expect.  For any interested climbing readers, the routes climbed at the Leap thus far (if I can remember accurately) are as follows:
* Deception 5.6 (Hogsback) - I climbed a 5.7 finger crack variation which was quite nice
* Harvey Wallbanger's Right 5.7 (Hogsback) - I thought this climb was very fun and interesting with 2 small roofs on the 2nd pitch. Highly recommended.
* The Groove 5.8 (LL Lower Buttress) - a very spicy 2 pitch climb that keeps your attention with distinct differences in climbing techniques and rock features between pitches. Wow!
* Surrealistic Pillar 5.7 (LL Lower Buttress) - a fun climb and worth doing, but a bit over-rated in my opinion
* Hogwild 5.7 (Hogwild) - a spicy face and small crack line. be sure to use 2 60M ropes or a 70M to get down from the rap anchor.
* Mixologist 5.9 (Hogwild) - a terrific climb with a single bolt protected crux over the roofy bulge that continues to a fantastically fun jam crack.
* Corrugation Corner 5.7 (LL Main Wall) - probably the most popular climb at LL and for good reason. Three STELLAR pitches in and out of a huge dihedral.  My favorite climb at the Leap.
* The Line 5.9 (LL East Wall) - also hugely popular and also for good reason.Considered sustained climbing. I found it to be pure fun and easier than I expected. Personally I think some of the 5.8s here have harder moves.  I HIGHLY recommend this climb.
* East Crack 5.8 (LL East Wall) - a fine 3 pitch line that is of great quality from top to bottom.
* Haystack 5.8 (LL East Wall) - probably the most popular 8 at the Leap. All 3 pitches are fun and the second pitch roof is hard for the grade when onsighting - apparently once you know the gear, moves and the jug hold it feels easier. Don't miss this climb!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Gotta Love Strawberry

Strawberry Lodge: This place was originally built in 1858 and most recently rebuilt (after fires) in 1939. It is walking distance from the campground (note Lover's Leap cliffs in background) and therefore easy to get a shower, cold brew and meal.

Enter Lover's Leap

According to the guidebook there are many speculations as to why they call it Lover's Leap. The campground used to be free - but I sure don't mind paying $10/night for a campsite in a beautiful setting 10 minutes walking distance to the cliffs.

Corrugation Corner

This is perhaps the best climb at Lover's Leap, certainly at the grade.  Pure fun from ground to top out.  Pitch 2 consists of great corner climbing, then transitioning to an exposed arete and finishing with an awkward move onto the big sloping belay ledge referred to as the "beached whale".  Pitch 3 has a chimney, more corner climbing and super fun and easy face climbing to the top out.
Meredith climbing the massive corner on pitch 2

Randy readies to be a beached whale

Friday, June 17, 2011

Yosemite's Half Dome

Half Dome is located at the eastern (?) end of the valley. It somehow seems dwarfed by El Cap when you drive into the park because El Cap towers directly above you and Half Dome is much further away, "out of reach" driving in.  But Half Dome is higher in elevation (over 4700 feet) and access is more difficult (I think).

Half Dome - note the snow on the top and ledges below

Tori posing with Half Dome in background
Yet another view from the valley meadows
The Snake Dike (5.7R) is a route Randy and I considered, but several factors dissuaded us - snow on top (see photos); the cable route was still closed - that made it unclear if the vertical supports would even be up and therefore the descent could be hairy; a 3+ hour/6 mile approach for a multipitch climb of 8+ pitches and an unknown descent. Sure, let's go! NOT.
Original pic from iPhone

Saturday, June 11, 2011

There is Too Much to Look At (previously Great Granite)

That's correct.  If you have ever been to Yosemite National Park you know just what I mean.  Randy and I were there a mere 6 days and I estimate we saw about 1/1,000,000,000th of what there is to see there. Our necks are sore from looking up (and that's NOT including belaying!)

Pine Line - truly a warm up for the next 5.7!
We thought we should get right to it on Day One and climb the big stone - El Capitan. This little piece of rock towers to over 7,500 feet and the vertical rock climbing routes can be as long as 2,900 feet (The Nose rises 2,916 from base to top).  We set our sights on some daringly long routes such as Pine Line (5.7), a whopping 70 feet from the base of El Cap! The ease of this nice crack climb tricked us into thinking we could bump up the grades on our subsequent climbs.  But like most climbing areas, the grades run the gamut and one 5.7 is completely different than the next. 

Now it was Randy's turn. Another 5.7 should do the trick - so we ventured over to the recommended La Cosita Left.  As soon as you hit the base of this climb you are intimidated and impressed by its steepness.  And this turned out to be a hell of a 5.7 route.  Good chimney and offwidth skills are a must and while the climb is relatively short, it packs a punch.

The highlight of our first day however, was the beauty and the beast at Moby Dick (5.10a). I had backed off a 5.9 earlier (due to the polished nature of the rock which made an ordinary layback feel extraordinarily difficult),  so it was still my turn.  Moby Dick is a crack line just calls to be climbed - so what the hell? Honestly, I thought the crux was not the opening finger crack moves as most others declared. But then again, that is typical because my fingers are a lot smaller than mens' fingers so I believe I can get finger locks that most of them can't. More difficult offwidth moves await you above and actually the "crux" of the route is climbing it with only one number 4 cam!  This offwidth goes on for what seems like an eternity (if you are leading with only one #4, that is) and I worked quite hard to get as far as I did.  
Moby Dick (5.10a) - I am just getting
into the offwidth business
 Eventually, I felt it was completely unsafe to continue to bump up the cam. The climbing became increasingly difficult as the crack widened ever so slightly and the tiny face holds melted away.  I felt forced to lower off and Randy said he would give it a go.  He came to the exact same conclusion once he got up there and felt what was trying describe moments earlier from high above.  Leaving a #4 cam and an additional cam a bit lower was not desirable, so we sought a couple who had walked by earlier hoping to climb the route.  Our theory was that if we could find another pair with their own #4 cam they could finish the climb having the advantage of using TWO large cams.  While that couple was not available, we did find another nearby climber who was interested in climbing Moby Dick. So Aaron and his partner Nate agreed to give it a go.  
Aaron's competent and attentive belayer Nate

Now Aaron is young, strong and tall and climbs 5.11 in Index (WA) so we assumed he would generally hike this route. Besides, I don't often onsight 5.10 trad climbs, especially my first day at Yosemite, yet I climbed as far as I did without hanging, resting, or falling (I just needed more large gear.)  Surely a 5.11 climber would find this easy! Not so - it took him quite the long time and he felt it necessary to have a THIRD #4 Camalot to complete the route up high at the long offwidth.  We had to send that cam up to him on a loop of rope so he could top out.  
Aaron has finished my business
and is headed for the anchor.
Note the remaining 2,802 ft of El Cap above
 We so appreciated these guys who not only retrieved our gear but were friendly, interesting and without egos.  I don't think Aaron cared this route was 5.10a - he respected it right off the ground and never once commented in such a way as to display hubris. This was refreshing.

Welcome to Yosemite.  I guess I've got some more climbing skills to master before I climb the rest of El Cap - or maybe just a bigger rack!