Sunday, November 25, 2012


I write this at the end of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Ordinarily, November in Vermont is cold, grey, raw and sometimes snowy.  This past week was anything but - the fair and unseasonably warm days have been to savor.  Brilliant, deep blue skies, bright sunshine, cold crisp nights.  By 11am with plenty of sun, the rock within ray's reach is warmed nicely - yup, climbing in November!

I was fortunate to get out twice on our local cliffs and soak it in. What a treat.  Truly something to be thankful for. But there is so much more to be thankful for. Family, friends, good food, good health to name only a small few.  While this blog started as a canvas for painting climbing stories and journeys, I have also always thought of it becoming a creative conduit for the bigger things in life.  Without my health, wealth and good fortune, I wouldn't be a climber - I wouldn't be climbing- I wouldn't be writing about climbing. I wouldn't be much of anything or anyone really if I wasn't so incredibly lucky to be born in this country, free and showered with the gifts of good parenting, education, family support, friends, health and enough financial wealth to live as I do. And as so many around the globe are born to far less, let me be mindful every day of my good fortunes - and to be grateful for every single detail, even those that seem to throw me off course.  There is a lesson in it all.

I want to stop my whining and complaining about trivial matters and practice gratitude regularly.  This article in the LA Times (printed in part in our more local Valley News recently) is what brought this back into my focus.  If you are reading this I hope you will take an extra few minutes to read this - and find a way to express your gratitude.

Climb on. Journey on. Give thanks.

A rare November view from atop our local cliff ridge. I am grateful.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

All Gunked Up!

OMG. A girl could not ask for a better 3 days of weather when visiting the Gunks in New Paltz, NY.  For late October, it is pretty rare to have THREE days like this. Sunny. Bluebird skies. Warm! We are talking mid to upper 60s! Yeeeeehaaaa!

Annie starting up the climb called "Classic"
What IS it about the Gunks that makes life so good.  Since it isn't the camping, it must be the climbing.  Yup. Every time I go to the Gunks I return home with a weird set of mixed emotions.  I have a fuzzy feeling inside as I reminisce the climbing routes traveled - yet a soft sadness that the fuzzies are de-fuzzing. I want to go back as soon as I get home, even though I love home.  Make any sense?

Due to lack of time to describe more sentiments and broadcast stories, let the pictures and videos set the scene.  We climbed some new routes and some old ones.  Are there really any "bad" routes in the Gunks?

Classic tests classic face climbing skills...

...and sports a fun overhanging finish!

The 2nd pitch provides for a great foliage backdrop!
Another "classic" part of the Gunks experience is the approach. Unlike some traditional climbing areas, the hike in is relatively a cakewalk.  We usually park in the East Trapps Parking lot and hike the stone steps referred to fondly as the "Stairmaster". This makes for a good heart pump and terrific muscle warmup.  Then you hit the carriage road and choose your destination.  From there, short trails wind up through the brief talus to reach the base of the climbs. Sweet!

One of our favorite new routes we climbed is called Credibility Gap.  The exciting first pitch features a finger crack and ramp leading you beneath a huge ceiling that seems completely improbable.  However, it protects well and traversing holds reveal themselves quickly allowing you to exit left under the large roof and turn the corner - great exposure!
Credibility Gap features this impressive ceiling. Sling it nice and long and swing out under it to the left. Exciting!
Another fun new route was Jane.  Climb a crack until underneath a big ceiling, traverse out right to stand on a big block.  Climb the crack through a bulge and then finish on a thin face. Definitely worth doing and you might find it open when all the other nearby routes are swallowed up.

I have been wanting to try Alley Oop for a long time.  Checked out the bouldery unprotected start and it looked like it wouldn't be too bad. The Grey Dick (guidebook) says after the initial move you can protect with a yellow alien.  I could see a small horizontal just 8 feet up so off I went.  But no pro! The crack turned out to be a shallow depression which would not accept any gear. The first place for gear appears to be another 10+ feet higher and with moves above that I could not reverse.  While I think I could make those moves, they did look and feel harder from my tiny stance and I didn't want to risk a fall onto nasty roots and rock below - a real ankle buster I'm sure.  So if anyone knows the pro beta on that one, please do tell!  Instead we found Wonderland to be free and this was another enjoyable new route.  The crux bolt is a rusty one with a homemade hanger and a lot of old epoxy - wouldn't  want to test that either!

Before heading home Monday we went to the Arrow wall to hop on that classic face climbing route.  That crux still stymies me, but that climb is so stellar it is always enjoyable.  I especially love the moves through the notch of the roof on the second pitch.

Again, the photos tell the weather story. Fantastic. Doesn't get any better than this!

Looking up at Arrow.  Check out the color of the sky!

Annie coming up Pitch 1
Annie at the Arrow crux, on Pitch 2 - a super tricky sequence above the bolt at the very top.
What is that ridiculous expression?

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Re-Visit to "The Valley"

The nice weather continues in northern New England.  Watching the forecast for rain it looked like the best weather was going to be in North Conway, so off we went, leaving early Saturday morning.  Clear skies were the rule until we began the initial drive up the Kancamangus Highway when we entered a dense fog, misty rain coating the glass - intermittent wiper variety. Unfortunately it was no better in North Conway, in fact, seemed even a bit wetter.  We were aiming for the Whitehorse slabs because it has been years since we have climbed the big slab routes and I wanted to see if I could find my mojo on those runouts again.  Everything was wet and climbers were scattered about hanging around waiting for the fog to lift so they could once again climb in the sun.  We made a trip over to IME to pass the time, hooking up with friends Joe and Judy Perez.  The sky cleared an hour or 2 later and we accepted our late start to the day.

Annie starting up the Wheat Thin Arete
We opted for a newly developed route on the far right side of the cliffs.  First ascensionists Paul Cormier and Chris Magness put up the line about 3 weeks ago, so it was exciting to think about climbing something new on such a prominent slab.  This route shares the first pitch with The Beginner's Route to get you to the big tree. Then it breaks slightly right and up and follows a beautiful thin flake.  In El Cap style, they named each pitch, this one called the Wheat Thin Arete.

What a nice job they did on this natural line - while it was surely climbed 40+ years ago, it would have been done with minimal protection and no one "claimed" it or named it.  Chris and Paul placed bolts and anchors right where they are most needed to keep the harder moves protected and the long runouts reasonable.  The 4th pitch (The Open Book Pitch) finishes with a traverse across a "Sea of Green" lichen on slab - this was soaking wet when I got to it, so I down climbed and found an alternative way around to the left over steeper and protectable rock.  Unfortunately, the lateness of the day made it undesirable to top out (5 more pitches up easier terrain shared with Beginner's Easy), so we walked off into the woods and headed for Echo Lake State Park where the festivities were brewing.  Can you spell "F-R-E-E  B-E-E-R"?

What a nice job the American Alpine Club (AAC) is doing this year.  They have been increasing their membership tremendously thanks to an active campaign, improved marketing, benefit offerings and more.  I think they are collaborating with the Access Fund as well, making for a stronger voice and influence on the behalf of climbers.  Vendors were there pushing their newest line of technical gear and clothing and a sizable amount of Tuckerman's Pale Ale was on tap, FREE to members.  Here we could rub elbows with greats like Freddie Wilkinson, Henry Barber and Ed Webster.  Of course there were plenty of other accomplished climbers there whose names are well known among climbing enthusiasts. Everyone is super friendly and supportive and I found this part of the day to be most enjoyable.  The highlight was a tug-o-war contest, captured in part on my iPhone.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Maine-ly Adventures

Acadia National Park on Mt. Desert Island in Maine is a coveted destination for tourists, campers, hikers, kayakers and climbers.  It is the first National Park east of the Mississippi, established in 1916.  This was my first visit to the park, despite having covered a lot of ground throughout Maine in my childhood and earlier adult years. The drive time from Vermont to the Maine coast is just plain LONG, since there are no east/west highways, and the main roads travelled pass through countless towns (read "traffic"). But once there the views of the ocean, rockbound coastline and gentle mountains are plentiful.

We climbed at 2 of the primary climbing "hotspots" - Otter Cliffs (seaside climbing) and The Precipice, inland granite walls with an ocean view.

Starting the layback of the upper section of Old Town

I was surprised and impressed by the quality and quantity of the granite at the Precipice.  The stone has excellent friction leading to a boost in confidence once your feet get used to sticking so well!  The friction of this granite is superior to what we have in places like North Conway, NH (Cathedral and Whitehorse ledges) or even Yosemite (glacial polished granite).  Most of the classic lines are clean and inspiring.  The most impressive line we climbed is called "Old Town", a sandbagged 5.7 but spectacular layback corner.  Unfortunately it was too hot the first few days, then too wet our last day (after a full day of heavy rain) to complete any of the final pitches of the routes we did, but we can always go back, right?

Clean granite lines. From L to R: Birch Aide (9+,)
Gunklandia P3 (7), Emigrant Crack (10b)

The rock at the coast (also granite but much smoother) is solid and beautiful.  The climbs at Otter Cliffs follow mostly corners, aretes and faces, although there are a couple of crack routes.  It's all about location, location, location when climbing there. (check out the video)

Annie and Carol on the belay ledge, Pitch 2
of Gunklandia. Note the ocean behind them!
We had the pleasure (or not, depending on how you look at it) of meeting Ken Nichols there.  Climbers who have been climbing long enough should know that name. Ken is a legend from Connecticut for his first ascents throughout New England (and beyond), traditional ethics, climbing ability, and guidebooks.  But his main claim to fame lies among the bolt wars - Ken was finally convicted of trespassing and destruction to property in 2007 for his bolt chopping at Farley Ledges.  In the climbing community, immeasurable opinons were sounded out. Today the forums are still bloated with flaming arguments and trolls concerning bolting and the behavior of choppers like Ken. My opinion matters not.  I was glad to meet the guy, even after he bullied his way right onto the climb we were planning to set up. If he hadn't done this, we wouldn't have ever interacted and our experience that day would have been far less fulfilling.  His personality is not what I would describe as altogether "friendly" or welcoming at first, but we are each individuals with our own character imperfections and annoying manners.  We don't have to like each other, but we do have to get along! (Can someone tell Congress that?) Ultimately, Ken was a gentleman of sorts, setting up classic lines and welcoming us to join him and climb on his ropes.  In hindsight, I wish we had been able to spend more time with him to hear his stories.  I admire and respect the old ethics and the more purist climbers such as Ken.  My life is richer for meeting and/or befriending legends like Joe Cote, Rich Goldstone, Bob Gephardt, Don Mellor and Rich Gottlieb. Now I can add Ken Nichols to the list!

If you want to see Ken in action check out the second YouTube video of him climbing Dol Guldur at Traprock.  For a feel for our sea cliff climbing at Acadia, check out the first video here.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Trip Report: The Diagonal, Wallface

With the Adirondacks close to my heart and actual geographic location, I have been dreaming for years about doing a big wall climb there in the wilder areas of the park.  As I get older, this becomes increasingly intimidating because of the increased risks involved with remote climbing as well as the uncertainty of my mental and physical endurance.  One must summon a little extra when the adventure is packaged with a long approach carrying a heavy pack (climbing and camping gear, water and food for more than a day). While this alpine style of climbing is mere peanuts for many climbers today, it is not so for me.  I love getting far away from the crowds, deep into the wilderness and in high places.  When I was in my 20s it came without thinking. Now in my 50s everything has to be well thought out and considered. And so the planning began earlier this year to gather a group of four to climb The Diagonal on the Wallface cliff in the High Peaks of the DAKs.

Since I tend to be big on planning and organization, I started with studying the route descriptions, approach and camping options, and potential meeting places for our group.  Two were coming from the north (Burlington area) and 2 were traveling from due east in Vermont.  I used Google Maps to determine possible meeting places, keeping in mind we wanted to minimize extra driving and maximize time efficiency.  The town of Newcomb, NY is the closest populated area to the Upper Works trailhead we would be using, so that seemed a logical choice.  I found a cemetery marked on the map that was quite close to the Tahawus Road which would would take up to the trailhead parking.  So my email to my climbing friends indicated this place to meet, promptly at noon.  Vince and I drove over together and arrived at the meeting place at 11:57.  When we saw that Louise and Lauren were not there yet, we figured we would shoot down the road a mile to see if we could find a place to buy some ice (gotta keep the beer super cold for 24 hours!).  Since this cemetery was so out in the open and clear, we figured it would be a cinch to come back in 5 or 10 and find them sitting there in their car waiting for the rendezvous.  Well, it didn't quite work out that way.

Note the little piece of paper we taped underneath with a note
By 1 o'clock with no sign of them and no way to call or text (no cell service over there), we elected to drive up the Tahawus road and see if by chance they were waiting at the trailhead.  Now, honestly, I saw no reason this would be the case since our plan was very specific about the cemetery.  But it can be pretty nerve-racking sitting and waiting - time does NOT speed along!  We left a note on the cemetery sign, just in case they came while we were out looking for them.

Of course there was no sign of them, so we drove all the way back down and when we got to the cemetery we were disappointed again - no one in sight.  Now 2 hours past the meeting time, we began to assume they had car trouble or worse, got in an accident.  Again, with no cell service we had no way to check for messages.  I figured it would not be easy to drive a short distance to find service either, so we simply made the decision to go on without them.  There was always the chance they might show up at the designated camping area near the cliff.

The parking lot was beyond full, so we joined the roadside parked cars and rearranged our packs.  The route requires 2 60M ropes to rappel, so we switched to double ropes (ugh, more weight).  The hike in was surprisingly flat and mellow, a real blessing when carrying a heavy load.  We reached our destination campsite in 2 hours. A bit less than an hour later, we heard voices, and, there they were - Louise and Lauren hiking in to join us after all!  After I got over my mixture of anger and worry, we hiked up the Indian Pass trail a bit to get a better view of the cliff and the route.

So where were they? Well, they arrived at that same spot either moments before or moments after we did - and I mean literally MOMENTS! Although they saw the cemetery, they did not feel it met the definition of a cemetery due to its uncharacteristic lack of tombstones. This cemetery had a lot of veteran flags and plots and very few discernible stones, and therefore might be interpreted more as a memorial or veterans cemetery.  Since I had labeled the meeting place as the "Newcomb Cemetery", it did not meet the criteria they were looking for. So they drive further through "town" - a few miles down the road, until they spotted another cemetery, truly more ancient with  a full compliment of headstones. They waited for us there for the same 2 hours we waited for them! But I digress.....

Back at camp, deep in the woods near the Indian Pass Brook, we set up camp and fired up the JetBoil for some dinner.  Since the weather was forecasted to be good Saturday, Saturday night and most of Sunday, we did not pack tents but elected to sleep out instead.  Vince generously offered me a bug bivy sack while he slept in the open with a big head net if he needed refuge.  Louise and Lauren did the same.  Of course, as it turned out, the bugs were barely noticeable, a huge surprise to me.  Usually the mosquitoes are fierce, especially at dusk. I am sure this was a huge relief to my 3 companions.

The next morning - note the brown tarp Lauren erected
Unfortunately instead, a small rain shower rolled in about midnight and woke us.  A mad dash for the plastic tarps which we were sleeping on top of allowed us to get some quick cover.  Lauren was extremely impressive with her ingenuity and actually made quick work of a true overhead tarp.  By the time this was erected, the rain stopped and Vince and I settled for using our tarp simply as a waterproof blankie over our bags and bods.

Before bedtime we had agreed to an alpine start of 0530.  With the rain overnight my companions felt they could sleep in, assuming the cliff face would be wet.  I was first up (at about 0500 I think, based on the dawn light) and could see the ground wasn't at all wet.  Before long I roused them and eventually we got ourselves packed and ready to hike up.  It was 0730 by the time we left - a bit too casual to my liking, but it is a team effort and I went with it.

The approach trail was well marked with cairns and we found the base of the route without any difficulty.  What is most exciting when you arrive at the base of Wallface is the size and steepness of the upper part of the cliffs.  And Wallface is broad - the section we were viewing and climbing may only represent about one fifth of the full width of the cliff!

Louise and Lauren at the bottom
of the ramp
The climbing began in good season. I started up the first pitch and found the first half straightforward.  The trick was in finding a belay build.  I had read there were 2 options for a belay, one fixed. I am still unclear where this fixed belay was, unless it was the tat of cord on a cedar tree 15 feet above where I chose to build. This section of the climbing (pitches 1 and 2) challenge your route finding skills.  But once Vince made his way up and right from my belay he felt confident he was on route and when he reached the base of the ramp he knew he was right. Phew!

Yours truly starting up the ramp
The ramp pitches are really something. Super easy climbing up a big, broad diagonal ramp that leads to the upper walls.  It was like climbing the Third Flatiron in Boulder, CO or something!

Once you get to the top of the ramp the view begins to unfold.  We saw hikers on a slab below who saw us and called up to us.  Vince thought this was Summit Rock as described on the Indian Pass trail. They seemed far to low to me, but after studying the topo maps later I think he may have been right!  The 5th pitch is simply a walk across a grassy ledge to the base of the 2 final pitches which both go at 5.8.  This is where the real climbing starts (and ends).  Vince lead the first of these which had a few awkward but really fun semi-chimney moves.  I was handed the sharp end for the final pitch which is really fun and had me pretty scared in one section where the steep wall on the left throws you to the right onto a sloping ledge that is just awkward.  The final steep wall has oodles of options.  It is littered with old rusty pins and pitons that lead up the corner then out left.  You can choose to climb just the corner, part of the corner then left or just stay left. I basically followed the pins to get a little of both features.  The wall is intimidatingly steep for 5.8 but the holds are big.  I found it a mentally challenging pitch simply because I was so aware of the setting and that there was absolutely no option to fall.  A badly sprained ankle or similar injury could spell big trouble because of the remote location.  5.8 IS more serious when you are climbing in the alpine setting. Period.

We enjoyed a top out onto a wide grassy ledge.  We joked that if someone wanted to make some money they could haul beer and hotdogs up there and sell them to the climbers as they top out.  Check out the video for some of the feel for our top out experience.

The descent consists of 4 double rope length rappels. Typical Adirondack tree anchors are to be found along the way and the worst of the descent was the bug attack that ensued as I slid down to the cliff's bottom on the last rap.  Up to this point there were not bug issues to speak of so I was not expecting them to be so bad at the day's end.  But they were swarming and biting like mad and it made for a speedy hike out and over to our packs.

We returned to camp, gathered our cached water, food and sleeping gear and hiked out.  It was later than we had hoped, but sleeping out again was less enticing without a good meal and cold brews to provide incentive.  Since those goodies awaited us at the trailhead parking lot, we trudged out into the evening, finishing the hike with headlamps.  It was a long day that was well worth the effort.

Me and Mr. Dude
There are many things that must be considered when taking on such an adventure.  Proper packing, planning and pacing are key to efficiency and maintaining endurance.  Safe climbing and ideal weather are essential to success.  Without all of the stars aligned, a small error in judgement or an ordinary mistake can quickly become an epic.  We found it curiously ironic that all of these things went off without a hitch. No one was hurt, hungry, hypothermic or dehydrated. Instead, the one thing that went really wrong was our rendezvous! And seeing as that all worked itself out, too, we feel very fortunate and thankful to have had such a successful trip.  The only other oversight was that none of us remembered to take a group shot of all 4 of us at the top out. Once this was realized, we agreed we could get a fun picture of all of us at the trailhead or cliff bottom.  But that never happened either.  There is too much to remember and focus on once you are safely on the ground.  Little details like these can easily be neglected.

Starting Pitch 6, the first 5.8 pitch

1. Don't take it for granted it won't rain. It will.
2. Take photos of the group at the top!
3. Most importantly, consider a meeting place that has cell coverage, even if it means driving a little out of your way.  This way if someone is late or lost you can reach each other via text or phone so as to adjust your planning and timing without having to worry or spend a lot of energy being ticked off.
4. Pack light, but take what you need and remember - for a climb like this, it is worth it!
Louise coming up Pitch 2
Lauren coming up Pitch 1

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Wallface Prologue

For several years now I have read about the climbing on a large cliff in the Adirondacks - Wallface.  Wallface Mountain is in the High Peaks region, and the cliffs on the southeast side are the tallest sheer cliffs in  New York.  There is 700+ feet of steep rock and it is indeed impressive!  Of course the wilderness setting is what really defines the place.  We hiked in the easy way, from the south - a little more than 4 miles from the Upper Works trailhead.  We camped in the pass below the cliff and started our approach and climb the next day, descending and hiking out late that evening.  I will be posting a full trip report with all the details soon. Until then, here are a few snapshots to serve as teasers.
The southern section of Wallface where we climbed on Sunday.
The route we followed is marked by the red line.

A view of the upper headwalls beyond the diagonal ramp on our route.
This photo was taken from the top of Pitch One of The Diagonal (5.8)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Land of the Flies

Ok, what's the real deal with deer flies? Please, someone, help me understand.  Is there an entomologist out there who can explain to me the psychology of the deer fly? Until I hear from you, I have begun to develop my own theory. It goes like this:

The deer fly finds its human victim and begins it torturesome dance. Buzzing, droning and dive bombing about the head (my head, that is).  It (likely the female who is looking for blood, so hereon referred to as "she") performs her reconnaissance,  seeking appropriate landing zones and savoring the fleshy targets in that ever-so-hard to reach spot.  While the thirst for blood is powerful, the adventure seems more pleasurable than the final goal.  Clearly she wants to torment me, following with me wherever I go. (I had one with me today beginning from the belay of a multi-pitch climb, to the top of the cliff, and throughout the entire hike out to the car. "Annoying" is an understatement!). Just as I thought I was about to lose my mind (cursing and swatting are futile by the way), I angrily commented how desperate I was to kill this ONE FLY!  Annie found this humorous (what the hell, empathy wouldn't improve the situation anyway, right?) "Just that one fly.  You think it is just one fly?" she commented facetiously. I replied that indeed I felt it was one fly - it never left orbit as far as I could tell.  Sure, I have had more than one fly circling me on many other occasions, but today it was one VERY annoying fly!  
Chrysops callidus
So Annie's theory is that it could be several flies working as a relay team.  Brusquely I rebutted. If the relay theory is valid, then I imagine the flies communicating to each other, strategizing their "hand-offs."  And it is clear that if this theory holds true, they are far more intelligent that we ever imagined.  Their timing impeccable. Their training honed.  The deer flies, you see, would have it down so perfectly as to make these relay transitions seamlessly, so that I would never be able to detect them as a team of flies.  So clandestine that by their own intentions, I would be convinced that it is ONE fly actualizing my agony.

A secondary hypothesis was developed as we hiked out today.  This came out of my continued frustration that Annie was not consistently tormented by the flies, only intermittently.  Again, Annie, the entomology psychologist: "The personality type of the deer fly can be determined by the personality of the victim it chooses." If you are an ADD-type person, you will be intermittently bothered by the ADD-type fly. This is the fly who buzzes and nudges for a bit, then is quickly and easily distracted. The victim is frequently provided respite and may go about her business with little or no aggravation.  On the other hand, someone who is eternally focused, controlling and concentrated (ahem, who might that be?) will attract the precisionist of flies.

So there you have it - psychological theory of the deer fly.  Do you subscribe to any of these theories? Or do you have one of your own? Post yours!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Big DAKs

There is an article in the current issue of Rock & Ice with this title "Big Daks", referring, of course, to the climbing in the Adirondacks. As a child I spent many summers in the Adirondacks - our family vacationed there at our friend's camp on Long Lake and both of my brothers went to school there.  Later, in my twenties, I revisited the park, mostly on foot, backpacking the Northville-Placid Trail.  I recall one solo 5-day trek on the trail where I did not run into another human being until the last day, hiking out to the Adirondack Loj near Heart Lake in the High Peaks region.  There is a history, spirit and soul to the DAKs, that is somewhat indescribable. The park is a unique tract composed of both private and public land, consuming over 6 million acres - that's right, this place is as big as the entire State of Vermont! I started exploring and experiencing the climbing in the DAKs about 6 years ago, beginning on one of the many large and formidable cliffs, Poke-O-Moonshine. I was hooked. Climbing in the DAKs is different.  In Don Mellor's "Climbing in the Adirondacks" (Adirondack Mountain Club, 1995, Third Edition), he captures the feeling as best one can in the printed word.

 "What is climbing in the Adirondacks? It is not getting advice from a flock of chalkbags below.  There are few colorful sling salads sprouting from fixed anchors. Those who have gone before you have tried their best to hide their passage, not advertise it.  This is an untamed place, even in many ways an inconvenient place. Trails are generally unmarked, and many of the routes see so little traffic that the cracks might be choked with dirt and the grade given by the first ascent team way off the mark. Sure, you'll see a host of well-traveled roadside crags as you drive through the better-known areas like Chapel Pond Pass.  But you might instead find yourself tempted to choose a place like Wallface, or Gothics, or some of the remote wilderness crags of the southern reaches of the park. There you'll rediscover the essence of a sport that has come so far in so very few years, but one which, thankfully, still retains the allure that has drawn people to the mountains from the beginnings of time."
Beer Wall climbs - L to R: Frosted Mug,
Flying & Drinking and Drinking & Driving; Labatt-Ami

We climbed some of the more popular crags this past weekend - the infamous Beer Walls; Deadwater; Hurricane Mountain.  The classic Quadrophenia felt harder to me this time, my 3rd ascent of the route.  I have been pondering those feelings recently - I am unable to tell if my aging is contributing to my increased fear, even on routes I am familiar with - or if it is just an "off day" where I don't feel quite in balance, strong and confident. Nevertheless, the climbing is still most enjoyable in its special, Adirondack way.  And with so much rock and routes to explore, the possibilities are endless.  In summer, an apres climb swim in the cool pond or stream with a cold brew make the whole day heavenly.
The DAKs - Forever Wild.

Larry turns the first roof on the 3rd pitch of Quadrophenia on Hurricane Mountain (2006 photo). With the piton on pitch 2 now missing, that part feels much harder and deserves a "R" rating!

A view of Upper Washbowl Cliff, taken from high on Chapel Pond Slabs.
This cliff boasts classics like Partition, Hesitation and Overture

Monday, June 18, 2012

Three Times a Charm

Recently got back from my third trip to "The City." That's right, the City of Rocks in Almo, Idaho.  The climbing, people, setting and quality of this place makes it one of my favorite places in the country to go climbing.  Super short approaches; clean, safe and affordable camping with tremendous views; tons of moderate sport and traditional climbing; easy access to top shelf microbrews & homemade pizza at the local establishment Rock City; showers at the state park campground; and a spirit and history that draws you in and sparks the imagination.  The California Trail went directly through this place as over 50,000 people passed through during the gold rush era.  Some stayed and homesteaded, until the dust bowl drove them out.  Cattle ranching is still active there today and we were fortunate to see cowboys and cowgirls driving their herds through the park - fun.

The trip was great for many reasons, but when the weather cooperates (or not) it certainly makes or breaks it.  While mostly we had warm sunny days, we did get a mountain storm one Monday night (it was in the mid-80s that day and the next night it snowed!).  Wind is commonplace there and our REI rental tent eventually bowed to mother nature when one of the poles snapped and ripped a 5 foot gash in the rainfly.  We were glad it was near the end of our visit so just 2 nights sleeping in the back of the rental car provided comfort.
Our sad tent pole surrendered to high winds
The climbing there is so good that is a pleasure to repeat routes already climbed.  There are many classic lines that are worthy of repeating.  Being my 3rd visit I was able to do plenty of that as well as try a few new ones.  I generally find the grades a little soft compared to the east coast climbing grades I am used to - BUT, as most climbing areas go, it is never consistent and the occasional sandbag gets thrown in for good measure.  The best example of this I can recall is a 5.7 called Triple Roofs on the breadloaves.  While still a fun and worthy route, it felt much harder than any other 5.7 I've climbed there - MUCH harder.  Of course every day is different and maybe I just wasn't climbing that route very well. At the opposite end of that same 5.7 spectrum is a highly recommended climb on Rabbit Rock called Hesitation Blues.  This was a cruise for the grade but tons of fun in a wonderful setting.  The nearby Roadkill (10b) deserves more stars than the book gives it IMHO - a  nice hybrid route with the first half a challenging crack and the second half a super spicy bolted slab. Just do it!

When we got back home the work had really piled up for me and it is my colleague's turn to go on vaca now - so I have been too busy to put together any quality blog posts and videos.  I created a fun slideshow set to music but of course due to Copyright laws I cannot post it on YouTube with the music.  So here it is without the intended audio so if you are ever thinking of going to The City you can have a little extra motivation! Enjoy!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Why We Suffer 329 Days

Comin' up the final corner -
check out the variants of greens
Yesterday, today and (forecasted) the next 3 days - weather that is quintessential. Perfect. Consummate. Splendid. 70 degrees - full sun - low humidity - bluebird skies - a luxuriant plethora of green hues everywhere you look - nature's masterpiece.

You could do almost ANYTHING outside in this weather and be happy throughout every layer - your core enriched and enlightened.  So climbing on a day like this only makes for a cruise through paradise.

This is why, here in Vermont (and other parts of Northern New England) we agree to suffer through 329 days of hard weather per year - because we might get 36 days like this. If we are lucky.

Carol, back on the rock, was grinning from ear-to-ear. (Who wouldn't?)  Soak it in. Soak it up. Breathe. Laugh. Move. It doesn't get any better than this.
Grinnin' on the finish

Monday, April 30, 2012

Hello. My Name is Cam.

Hey Jean, I hope you don't mind me posting on your blog, but I was thinking about how much fun we had this past weekend together in the Gunks and I've been meaning to write something for a while.

When I think of all the places we have been and all the fun climbs we have done, I get all warm and fuzzy inside.  Sometimes I just hangout on your hip all day and enjoy the ride.  I have to admit there are times when I think you have completely forgotten me, lost on the back gear loop (you know, outta sight, outta mind?).  But there have been plenty of times we have worked so well together - whether it be on-sighting a new route in a new location or climbing a line we have done time and time again. It is always fun, isn't it?  I was so psyched to be able to help you out recently on the last pitch of Doubleissima.  We did a lot of hanging out together there at that crux, didn't we?  Truth is I was glad to help. You know, Jean, there was no way in hell I was going to let go of that rock and let you down. We were in it together!

It was so fun watching your friends Louise and Carol climb up High E, City Lights, Yellow Ridge. I wish I could have helped you out on Birdland yesterday, but it was clear you need more little guys than one big guy on that pitch! (wink) - It's okay, I had so much fun anyway.

Hangin' Out on the High E Ledge

So what's next? Oh yeah, that's right - I think you said we'll be doing some climbing in Vermont the next couple of weekends.  Then we head to "The City" and The Cottonwoods soon after. Can't wait to get back out west and get in some tight squeezes with you! Later!
Fondly, Cam
Louise had lots of company up there

Monday, April 2, 2012

An Oratory on Brain Buckets

I am frequently reminded of the importance of wearing helmets when actively participating in the climbing domain. As a motorcyclist of over 40 years, I learned at a very young age that wearing a helmet was a “must”. I do not ever recall there being any negative stigma associated with wearing a helmet when you ride. It wasn’t until I was older and teaching motorcycle safety instructor courses that I became acutely aware of the surprising number of riders who felt wearing a helmet was not only optional but a downright infringement on their rights. Of course, when conducting a motorcycle safety course, we had the authority to require helmet use – else you find some other place to learn to ride or teach.

Since I learned to rock climb (20 years ago) I never thought twice about helmet use. I mean really – doesn’t it make sense that a helmet might protect your head in a slip or fall? Of course when you learn more about climbing you learn of numerous other hazards which might inflict harm should you opt out of some cranial protection. Falling rocks, gear and other debris are fairly commonplace in many popular climbing areas - and if even a stone the size of a half dollar were to hit you on top of the head from a fair distance above, you’d be lucky to walk away – more likely you’d be facing emergency first aid, evacuation, hospitalization and possibly death. (Not to mention how ugly you might look with a bashed in head or face!)

What strikes me most (no pun intended) is the lack of helmet use in sport climbing areas. The next time I get to Rumney, I might conduct an informal “study” by counting how many climbers I encounter with lids and those without. Granted, if I do this, I will need to keep it simple by counting climbers who are actually wearing a helmet WHILE CLIMBING. At sport areas, there are 2 types (well maybe 3) types of climbing set-ups in action: lead climbing, following and (similarly) top-roping (one could argue seconding and TRing are the same in this case). Now BELAYING is a whole different matter! What percentage of climbers do you think I might find wearing helmets WHILE BELAYING when I go to Rumney? Care to post your guesses follows?

Percentage of climbers at Rumney wearing helmets while climbing =
Percentage of belayers at Rumney wearing helmets while belaying =
Ratio of climbers vs. dogs at Rumney (no wait – that’s another soapbox for a future post!)

Wait - maybe SOME people DO look ugly in helmets!
Since sport climbing is widely considered “safe” in terms of protection and by nature, can be on more overhanging terrain (especially as the difficulty rises), most “sport climbers” refrain from helmet use. I suppose it is considered uncomfortable, cumbersome and mostly unattractive (read “UGLY”)! I have plenty of friends who are sport climbers and my oratory is NOT intended to offend – although I must admit I don’t buy the arguments. Climbing is inherently dangerous and like other high risk activities, there are MANY steps one can take to mitigate the risks and thereby decrease the odds of serious injury or death. Helmet use is an obvious choice. But I guarantee you we won’t see a change in this behavior at the sport crags. It is a part of the culture. (By the way, are the arguments against helmet use the same for boulderers? To me, without the protection of a rope and relying solely on a crash pad and/or spotters, wouldn’t a helmet make total sense before climbing 15 feet of the ground, especially considering “falling” in bouldering is more commonplace than sending???) But I digress.

Recently, some friends of mine were climbing at Rumney, and these folks typically fall into the helmet–wearing type of climber more so than the no-helmet crowd. The leader was climbing up to the 2nd or 3rd bolt (not far off the deck) and reached the crux where she began to have difficulties. After some time I suppose she couldn’t sustain her position on the rock any longer and knew she was about to come off. And so she did, landing on her belayer below and tumbling/stumbling to a stop. The belayer, ever at the ready particularly when she knew her partner was in trouble at the crux, was knocked hard into the rock head first. She tells me had she NOT been wearing her helmet at the belay, the scene would have been an entirely different one! (The leader sustained a bad gash in her lower leg, but no head injury.) This story has provided me with a stinging reminder to wear my helmet even when belaying.

We subscribe to 3 climbing magazines – Climbing, Rock and Ice and The Alpinist. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist ( I have a climbing friend who IS a rocket scientist by the way – just an aside), to see that the magazines do NOT promote helmet use and in effect discourage it. Glorious photos of professional and amateur climbers around the globe in all venues are depicted. While admittedly I believe there may be a slight increase in the number of helmets I see worn in the mag photos in recent years, it is still a sad representation. What I find most hypocritical is that in some of the content writers testify as to the importance and value of helmets, yet the practice lags far behind. The most recent issue of Climbing is the 2012 Gear Guide – check out the first paragraph on helmets on page 62. I quote: “You wouldn’t consider biking down a busy road without a helmet, so why climb without one? Whether sport climbing at your local crag or venturing up a 15-pitch alpine route, helmets offer critical protection from falling rock or ice as well as from a blow to the head during a fall.” (add “or belay” here).

Before anyone starts admonishing me for hypocrisy by claiming I don’t always wear a helmet, bite your tongue. While I am far from the moniker “safety saint”, I do wear my helmet probably 95% of the time, yes, even belaying. I find exceptions and when I do it is when I perceive minimal risk. But the risk is still there and I have a little voice in my head that warns me – the one time you think it’s safe to take off your helmet is the one time something will happen – and you will wish you hadn’t. Ok little voice – I hear ya.

This is a blog. It is MY blog. But I welcome participation so the posting is open! Fire away if you care. And whether you wear a helmet or not, consider taking this survey offered up by a graduate student performing a study on helmet use in climbing. He will donate $1 to The Access Fund for every completed survey he receives. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

March Revival: God Bless Rock

I've heard this is one of the warmest and least snowiest winters on record. Since moving to northern New England in 1992 I can never recall a winter so mild and mellow. But if you look at the weather history stats you'll probably discover I simply have a bad memory.

Annie soaking in sun and slab
 There was a day in late January or early February this year when it was warm and likely dry enough to climb outside. I wish I had made it a priority that day, but I didn't. We have been pulling plastic (climbing in the indoor gym) for a few weeks now and it's been fun. But NOTHING equals the experience of being outside scaling real rock. It rejuvenates the spirit and feels so good beneath the feet and the fingertips.  Add sun, wind and a 50 degree day in early March and it doesn't get much better.  Annie and I climbed today and it felt like a Sunday revival of our spirits.
Even the lichen feels good again!

I imagine Rumney and the Gunks were hopping today with weather this fine.  Glad we didn't need to make the trek. We are looking forward to some time in both places this spring, but are more excited to be getting out to The City of Rocks in late May and early June.  It's Annie's turn this time for a big birthday and since she was rained out of a chance to climb there last year, we put the City back on the agenda.  If the weather stays like this in Vermont we should be well prepared.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Living With Dying

The past two days have been quite pensive for me.  When a time comes around in our lives to experience the death of someone close or (as in this case) the death of a beloved animal, it quickly casts us into sorrowful contemplation.  Our sense of purpose and raison d'etre are strangely and softly  called into question.  Fresh perspective is gained and through our sadness we may also become thankful for our many blessings and good fortunes.

And so I cogitated this weekend, as our oldest and biggest beloved goat Purslane died Sunday morning.  She was 18 years old - she lived unusually long for a goat and she was one hell of a goat at that.  She was strong in pure muscle and force as well as in spirit.  All of the other barnyard animals held her in high esteem and respected her as a matriarch.  She vexed us when it came time for hoof clipping. She made us laugh when she would extrude her head through the holes in the barn slats for feeding. She was keenly smart and capable.  She knew what she wanted and most of the time she got it.  She was a goat to admire, and love with  all of your heart.
A Purslane portrait - a beautiful goat

Since climbing is considered a high risk activity (or so say the insurance companies), I sometimes contemplate the possibility of a sudden or unexpected death.  Personally, I think driving a car is more dangerous than climbing, because we take driving for granted. When I go climbing I am hyper-aware of my surroundings and once I leave the ground pay close attention to details which might make the difference between a fun, memorable outing and an epic.  We all take risks. The trick is to reduce the inherent risk in these activities we pursue.  And accepting some level of risk is essential to living.  If we do not live our lives doing the things we love and being with the people who make us happy, then what is the point, really?

A legend of climbing also passed away recently.  While I did not really know anything about Jack Roberts, the climbing community is incredibly compassionate when a member is lost.  It sounds as if Jack died exactly what he loved doing - climbing - and he died a happy man. See A Tribute to Jack Roberts for more details.

So live well - live long - and live as much as possible loving what you do. Live your life fully.  Minimize the risks you take whenever you can, but don't stop taking risk, or you won't be living fully.  Live big - I know Purslane did.