Thursday, August 30, 2007

Adirondacks - Fall Trip

So I was supposed to go to Cannon this weekend, but "Jello" has car problems (bad alignment = blown tire on the way to Philly from Cathedral - bummer) and thought he needed more time to get his car fixed. He felt it was best if I drove up to the 'Dacks and hit Cannon next weekend instead, after his car got fixed. I'm OK with that, but I had tentative plans of going to the 'Dacks with other people. This meant that I could have driven with someone, shared the costs of the trip and had company for five hours of driving. Now, that looks unlikely. But in some aspects, it is also a good thing (I doubt my original partners will go up this weekend - too many obstacles in my mind). I think he and I will be able to climb more routes and do what we want to do. We'll be more efficient and productive at the same time. But we'll see.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Rumney (re, re, redux)

The entire week leading to my trip up in North Conway I pressed my partners to meet up somewhere on Saturday and Sunday. I really wanted to make my two days on Cathedral a three or four-day-long climbing weekend. I posted to my group and got nothing but crickets in response...and even they were asleep. So I made one last effort with a phone call to a girl I wasn't I wasn't sure was comfortable spending the day with me.

Me: Hi, what's up?

"Elegance": Nothing. I'm at work.

Me: Sorry. Just returning your stuck-in-traffic call from a couple of weeks ago.

"Elegance": Oh

Me: Soooo, are you climbing this weekend?

"Elegance": Um, yeahhhh. I think so. I didn't get out this past weekend so I want to climb this weekend.

Awkward silence.

Me: Where are you going?

"Elegance": Ummm...the weekend is kind of too far away. I don't know.

Me: Can I join you?

"Elegance": Sure, I'll call when I know more, but I have to go know because this machine I'm going to turn on is loud.


OOOK. Obviously, this didn't look good. For one reason, I knew my cell phone was going to die somewhere around Dover, NH and not be useful again until I got back to Boston (bad reception - everyone else gets great reception. I get bad reception). I also wasn't sure if she was going to call, and I wasn't sure if I'd even get the call if, in fact, she did call. Well, Thursday came and went and there was no call (I was using "Jello"'s phone to call my phone to check my messages). It was then deep into Friday afternoon and early evening when I called her again and got her voicemail. I left a message and asked her to call "Jello"'s phone. She called mine. I wasn't sure what that meant, but at least it was a call back. Still, she didn't tell me when she was going to be there or where she was climbing. Rumney, if you don't know, is a large, spreadout mountain (Rattlesnake Mountain) with about ten different crags hidden throughout the area. Finding her was going to be difficult, especially if she didn't want to be found.

Well, I left yet another message on her phone (this time it rang and went to voicemail) telling her that I'd be in the parking lot between 9am and 10am. I got up early, arrived at 830am (the drive across was far less busy than I thought it would be) and waited...and waited...and waited. I read my book (Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad) on the trunk of my car so that I could monitor the cars coming into the lot I was parked in and the cars driving to the next lot. I waited so more. It was now quarter after ten.

Well, all's well that ends well, because she showed up not too long after that. As it turns out, there was another guy there with his two-year-old son also waiting for her and her sister (as well as two other friends who showed up about the same time she did). After the meet-and-greet and pancake breakfast (support your local crag at their fundraisers) we walked up into the Parking Lot wall and did three climbs: an un-named chimney (probably 5.5 / 5.6) to the right of Juan Valdez (5.10b), Juan Valdez and Espresso (5.10d). I got up Juan Valdez OK, but struggled on the pumpy, juggy Espresso. My thumb just isn't right enough to handle overhanging routes yet. Otherwise I think I could have climbed it. If I can do Hammond Organ (5.10d), then I should be able to do Espresso as well. Juan Valdez, by the way, is a great route. It has either a crimpy face start or reachy flake start that leads to a layback left-facing corner at the top. It's really a great route with a heady lead section near the top.

After the Parking Lot Wall, we headed up to Tri-Corners, complained about "Elegance"'s dog crap smell (she says that was a healthy crap her dog took. I beg to differ), ran away from her trying to hook the bag of dog crap on our packs behind our backs, and fought off the odd, autumn coolness that made us all shiver at the unprotected crag. I tackled four climbs there as well: Murk Trench (5.10a - great short route), Trigger Happy (5.9 - Fun, fun, fun, fun, fun. Don't forget about the hidden jug on the left-facing corner midway up), Left El Diego (5.9 - probably closer to 5.10. Very pumpy but all the holds are there), and Rack for Sale (5.7 - fun).

All in all, I have to say that it was a really fun day. There was a lot of laughing that ensued, and I think my attitude of "climb-only" helped smooth things over for me in a big way. I was surprised to hear that "Elegance" was happy I had decided to come climbing with her crowd that day, and to be honest, I was pretty happy she'd let me climb with her and her friends. They were good people, good company, and I felt as if I had made a bit of a breakthrough that day. My priority was to climb, and I had a great time doing it, past histories be damned. I met some nice people, whom I have not created a nickname for, but I may have to if we do indeed go to the 'Dacks in a couple of weeks (though I do think it will be a "Jello"-and-I-only trip because it is all trad up there, and I'm not sure "Elegance" realized that when she said she was interested in going. She doesn't like trad that much, and I understand that because I think for her she prefers to climb hard routes, and you can't get that with trad very easily. Some folks like trad and others sport. It's a wiring thing, I think).

Anyway, we grabbed dinner in her friends' VW Van in Plymouth at the Plymouth House of Pizza and drove off. "Elegance" and I played leapfrog in our cars on the way home, just to keep ourselves awake. I took a loooong shower after three days of cleaning up in a cold, cold, cold stream in NoCo and went to bed.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Cathedral Ledge - North Conway

Ever since we met up in the Adirondacks over Memorial Day weekend, "Jello" and I have been discussing a potential trip that would allow us to tackle some trad, multi-pitch routes over the course of several days. We discussed two different weekends in July, one weekend in August and the possibility of meeting up either in the 'Gunks or 'Dacks, but we couldn't piece a trip together. First it was my inability to get time off from work. Then it was him getting laid off from work. He had a wedding to attend. I was going home for a week to visit family. His girlfriend was to fly out of Philadelphia on a day we wanted to climb. I was concerned about being out of the office at the same time as my boss (well, not really), and he was to start a new job sooner than expected. It didn't matter what our plans were in the end; time wouldn't let us meet up and we were both getting frustrated.

And then the stars came together.

Finally, we were able to piece together two days at the end of last week where we could camp right across the street from the crag at our super-secret camp site, get up early, and get on the choicest meat before anyone else was even thinking beyond their morning coffee. While we didn't get to do as much as hoped, we still had a great time trying. Thursday provided more opportunities than Friday did, but the route we did on Friday was enough to leave a taste in our mouths to do more. To go bigger. Longer. Badder and radder (OK, so maybe I'm exaggerating here, but only just a little). Below is what we did, how we did it and what the routes are like.

Thursday - North End and Lower Left Wall

Child's Play (5.6) - 1 Pitch of Trad with slings at the top - North End - This was our first route of the trip because we wanted to start on something easy as a warm up. That and we had heard Cathedral was stiff in the grading, so we also wanted to get a feel for what the routes were going to be like: stiff or honest? This route was a little sandbagged, but only just a little. The start was probably a 5.7+ layback with no feet on the first two moves, but once we got past that section, it was pretty easy to string the route together
the rest of the way. This route has excellent pro in the vertical crack just about anywhere on the climb. The finish has a bit too much lichen for my liken', but there was never a tense moment until "Jello" came down after TR'ing the route. It was a normal belay. He got to the top, removed our anchor, set himself up on the rap anchor already in place, and I lowered him. About half-way down, "Jello" saw a horizontal dihedral that he wanted to avoid and pushed his feet outward so that he'd land right on the top edge and step down from there. Unfortunately, his foot missed the edge and his shin caught it instead. It was a helluva scratch that I honestly thought for a few moments would end our climbing before it had hardly started. But he shook it off and we TR'd the next route over from Child's Play.

The Mantleshelf Problem (5.7) - 1 Pitch of TR with slings at the top - North End - This route is not really leadable. One could certainly free-solo it, but it is a face climb with no sign of a crack until about 30 feet off the ground. The start is nice. It has two palm-sized ledges for mantling, and these first two moves lead to a series of jugs just to the right of the Child's Play crack. The top runs up a face of flakey lichen that is way more slippery when wet
than one would think.

Kiddy Crack(5.7) - 1 Pitch of Trad with slings at the top - North End - Another solid route that is more consistent than Child's Play is. It is just to the right of The Mantleshelf Problem and follows a vertical crack upward to the same anchors as the first two climbs did. "Jello" led this route, and I was happy that he was going to be strong enough to continue. Still, these first few routes were too easy. We wanted more.

Bird's Nest (5.9-) - 1 Pitch of Trad with slings at the top - North End - And we got it. This was a stiff route that was very thin and slick at the bottom, especially since it had rained the night before and the jug of water I had bought for the weekend sprung a leak in my trunk and soaked my shoes.
When people tell you that Cathedral can be sandbagged, this is proof that is true. I think this was a 5.10, not a 5.9-. But I hate vertical cracks, so maybe that's just me (I also hate creepy looking spiders that look more poisonous than I'd care to learn the truth about). In any case, it has great pro all the way up that doesn't get in the way of where you want to put your hands. I tried jamming the first 20 feet or so, but I fell twice (the gear held, thank God) and found that a layback worked much better until I could hand jam through the middle (To be honest, I fell more because I was trying to avoid the damn spider than due to the difficulty of the climb. I swear, the fucker was sitting right on a jug that I needed and never moved despite my trying to nudge him along. "Jello" kept yelling 'Kill it! Kill it!', but I didn't want to get that crap all over my gear. I have standards you know).

I finally made it past the spider and into what I thought was the best part of the climb, a series of good hand and fist jams leading to a nice rest on a shelf below a small roof. The upper-middle section had an awkward high-step, sloper, mantle move that made me pause for a couple of minutes to figure out. The move is much easier than it looks, but that doesn't make it less scary. The top was pretty smooth. I'd even call it a 5.6 runout. This route is highly recommended.

After we finished on the North End Wall, we went back down to the car (less than 45 seconds of walking - damn, that's a tough approach), had lunch and decided to try out two routes on the Lower Left Wall that sounded intriguing. Both shared the same first pitch and split into different directions. Both were fantastically different from each other, almost so that it made us feel like we were on different walls.

Bombardment (5.8 - 5.6R) - 2 pitches of trad with no gear at the top - Lower Left Wall - "Jello" led the first pitch of this route: a one-piece 5.6 runout that goes up about 35 feet, with 25 of those feet above the only piece of gear the entire pitch. Still, it's a 5.6 that starts below the obvious rap anchors
at the bottom of pitch two, and winds right up a dike and touch-and-go smear section before an easy hike brings one back to the anchors. Pitch two juts out to the right with a high-step onto a flaring vertical crack that winds left as one goes up. Pro is scant early on this pitch, but it gets better as the crack fades. I'd definitely brings cams for this section. Nuts won't go until you're too high. At that point, decking out isn't just a reality for the start of the second pitch, but maybe the bottom of the first pitch, too. There weren't any anchors at the top, so bring some small nuts to make an anchor in the horizontal crack. There's also a good tree to rap off. And if you venture higher and find what seems to be a soft spot in the ground, don't step there. That's "Jello"'s "I'moffbelaygottarunI'vegottatakeacrapholySHIT!" hole. He was missing for several minutes when we finally rapped down to the bottom of the second pitch, which was also the start of the second pitch of Pleasant Street.

Pleasant Street (5.7 - 5.6R) - 2 pitches of trad with no gear at the top - Lower Left Wall - This route, instead of having a crack that sunk into the wall, featured an under cling flake that arched left to an easy but thick roof near the top. "Jello" led this pitch, and had a lot of fun with it. I don't know about
this guy, to tell the truth. He seems to really like sticking his hands in places
where you don't know what's hiding inside. He just sticks them in there and smiles, albeit not without bitching about all the cobwebs that had formed on the way up. If you don't appreciate cobwebs, make your partner lead this one. It'll be nice and clean for you on the way up. The pro is excellent and the footing is solid as well. One could probably climb the face, but all the pro is in the flake. Use long slings at the bottom to avoid rope drag. One thing to note, however, is that the top of this route is very, very rough. "Jello" stopped short of the top because he couldn't see that the route went any further. From where he set the anchor, everything above was a slopey, lichenfest with no easy, 5.7 moves. He built an anchor in the horizontal crack where he stopped and recommended we traverse over to the top of Bombardment to rap down. However, when I got to the top I discovered three bolts in the rock that led to a very precarious, slippery and slopey section up to a large tree (I aided this part - the lichen was just too touch-and-go). I anchored off the stout branch that hung out over the cliff, sat on the top of it, let him rap down and then I rapped down after him (just to be sure, swinging from a seated position on top of a tree branch onto rappel below a tree branch, and hoping one's weight doesn't snap the branch one is rappelling off of is no treat. I admit, I was afraid. Very, very afraid). Still, the rap was easy and went directly down to a rap anchor that is not in the same spot as the start of the second pitch. If you rap off, rap straight down from the top. You may need two ropes to rap back to the second-pitch belay station. The rap anchors half-way down are good enough to use, but as always, check first.

Friday - Thin Air Face

Standard Route (5.6) - 4 Pitches of Trad with slings for anchors on pitches two and three, and bolts for pitch four - Toe Crack Variation (5.7) on first two pitches - Thin Air Face - Our plan on Friday was to do Thin Air (5.6 - 4 pitches) and then do some of the climbs on the Upper Left Wall such as Upper Refuse (5.6) and various 5.9s and / or 5.8s. Unfortunately, we got up way, way too late in the morning to beat the crowds, and by the time we got to the bottom of Thin Air, there was already a disappointed father and his young daughter holding up the climb (he asked the party behind them to get a tri-cam out for him because his daughter, who couldn't have been more than ten years old, "had a meltdown trying to get the cam out". The whole crowd below heard him say that. You'd think he'd show a bit more support), a group of four waiting to get on the climb and "Jello" forgot his climbing shoes in the car. By the time he got back, Thin Air was as crowded as it usually is. And why not? It's one of New England's most classic climbs. Everyone has to do this route once. It's absolutely fantastic.

Because of the long queue and our desire to get as much climbing in as we possibly could before his girlfriend called for a ride back from shopping in North Conway all day, we decided to do the Toe Crack variation of the Standard route, a long, four-pitch route that requires two ropes if one is going to rap down from the top. "Jello" led the first three pitches mainly because I was now battling two damaged thumbs. The first one you've heard about in my other posts (canoeing accident). The second was a much more traumatic injury: I cut a massive gash in my thumb whilst trying to open a can of freaking blueberries for the pancakes that didn't cook well earlier that morning. Not only did we not get pancakes, but I was stuck fiddling with gear with a two-inch thick wrap of tape and gauze around my thumb all day. The damn thumb just wouldn't stop bleeding. When I finally took the wrapping off later that day, the gauze was stuck to my thumb thanks to all the blood. I thought I was going to die. Seriously.

OK, so maybe I am exaggerating again, but having two bum thumbs and an intense displeasure for vertical cracks (love, love, love horizontal cracks and face climbs. Despise vertical cracks), I let "Jello" have all the fun on the first three pitches.

Pitch One - "Jello" followed the dike at the bottom of the cliff (I mean, who wouldn't? She was HOT! - OK, bad joke, sorry, sorry) to the small chimney that is the Standard Route. However, what he needed to do was not climb all the way up to the chimney because Toe Crack starts to the left of a very slick traverse from the chimney. What he should have done was approach via a tricky slab below the crack. Don't go too high here. The slab is easier than the traverse is, and if you get your feet up high, the move across the slab is pretty basic. From there, follow the vertical crack up, place as much gear as you want (because it's more bomber than a B-52 is, and that's a real bomber) and finish to the
right, at the top of the chimney if one had climbed that instead. There are slings at the top, but these looked worn. I mostly climbed the face here, mainly because that is what I prefer, but you'll need to get your feet twisted in the crack a few times to get up. This was a beautiful pitch. I can't wait to get back on it again, except next time I want to lead it...sans blood.

Pitch Two - We stepped back out onto the face and finished the crack before again fading right to another tree above the Standard Route. Be careful on this belay ledge. There is a lot of loose dirt, sticks, debris, etc that can be easily knocked down to a heavily-used path below. It is the specific belay station that I use as an example of why one should not rap off this route.

You can probably string the first two pitches together in one go, but I'd use only 60m meter or longer ropes for that. If you fall short, there are plenty of places to fix an anchor in the crack below the belay station. That is what a cute blond named Brooke did below us so that she and her guide could traverse to the top of the second pitch of Thin Air and rap down. Hehe. A cute girl talked to us. We felt like men. Grrr...

Pitch Three - "Jello" was disappointed that Toe Crack was now finished and was slightly unnerved by the massive runout face / chimney the rest of the way. We were already swearing like cowboys (we were pretending to be motherfucking, cocksucking actors from the cocksucking, motherfucking cockcucker of a show on HBO called 'Deadwood'), and this pitch didn't help matters. It was a stiff climb that would have been disastrous had he fallen - at least thirty feet of unprotected climbing above a steep, rocky gully that would have shot him straight past me and down toward the lower pitches. I even felt the strain while on second, and gave him big kudos for being both "bold and old" at the top of the pitch.

The belay ledge here is huge. In fact, I may do a night climb of this route someday just so I can sleep on the ledge and wake up to shout "I'M THE FIRST FUCKING CLIMBER ON THIS CRAG TODAY!!! ... ... because I never left."

There are hangers for belaying. Don't use the tree.

Pitch Four - Because "Jello" practically crapped his pants on the previous pitch and partially because the crack was finished and I didn't need my thumb as much, he deferred the lead of the fourth pitch to me. Yippee. He likes cracks and I like stemming chimneys. It was a match made in heaven. Or not. This was the crappiest pitch by far. It was probably 5.6 all the way up, but it clearly was not a popular option. The cave / chimney at the start was easy enough (hint: go fairly deep in, stem across, and then come back out to the edge and below the roof). It was the rest of the climb that sucked. Firstly, there were some route finding difficulties. Once one comes over the roof, one finds a gully with high enough walls on either side to keep one from seeing the best line to the top. I chose carefully. I chose wisely. I chose luckily: to the left up a thin, lichen-covered crack that eventually leads to a slopey slab just below the last belay station of Thin Air. I chose this route because it offered far better protection that the right side did, and because I knew there was a 5.11 lurking somewhere around where I was. I figured it wasn't where Thin Air was anyway. Be forewarned, however. A fifty-meter rope won't make it to the top and there aren't many good anchors spots along the way. I had about ten feet of rope left when I finally got to the top. Thankfully the top ledge has plenty of good belay options (large tree, plenty of room, horizontal cracks, etc) to choose from. That made using what little rope I had left that much easier.

Once at the top, we though about rappelling down either Thin Air or Miss Saigon, but we were told that we needed two ropes to make it the belay stations on both routes. We decided to take the short, one-minute-hike path to our right and walk down the road that goes to the top of the cliff. We talked about night climbing Thin Air, but that was the end of our day and we knew it. We were tired, happy to have climbed what we did and began to talk feverishly of doing big climbs on Cannon and other routes in the 'Dacks. It was a good couple of days, and while "Jello" and his girlfriend had a nine-hour drive to Philadelphia ahead of them, I had a trip to Rumney the next day that would finish off my climbing weekend.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

North Conway Trip

I've been back one day and I'm taking off again for the rest of the week. What a life! After spending a week in Bar Harbor (Acadia) sipping Mudslides, eating out, jet-skiing, reading, writing, relaxing and basically being a bum, the time has finally come for me to put away the awkward inflexibility in my thumb and put it to the test on Cathedral Ledge.

I'm meeting "Jello" and his girlfriend there. We're camping just down the road from the base of the cliff, so that will be nice. It will also be nice to be up there during the week as opposed to the busy weekend.

I'm not sure what "Jello" has in mind, but he has mentioned Upper Refuse (5.6) and Recompense (5.9). If you remember, Recompense is the route I damn near died on a couple of years ago. Oddly, I can't wait to get back on it. In fact, I haven't been able to wait until I came down that day. The only disappointment is that I won't be climbing it with the guy I tried to climb it with last time. I'm a sucker for punishing myself (note: I am not a sucker for other people's punishment). I just want to do things the hard way sometimes. Climbing this route with my other friend instead of "Jello" would just add more stress to the head-game equation. Still, "Jello" has knack for adventure, so maybe I'm speaking too soon.

Anyway, I'll report back when I get home. That looks like Saturday instead of Sunday. What a bummer. I knew "Jello" was going to cut his trip short due his girlfriend having to fly out of Philadelphia early Sunday morning, but I was hoping someone would go to Rumney this weekend. Alas, it does not seem to be the case. Maybe Labor Day? Maybe the Gunks? I need better partners.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Great Head - Acadia

I grew up in Bar Harbor, Maine and went climbing only once while growing up. It was during one of my summer day camp outings, when I was six or seven years old, and I cried like a baby because I was so afraid of letting go of the rock. Ten feet off the ground was a long way for me then (still is a bit today). My death grip may have left a permanent impression on the rock. It was a bit embarrassing, too, because I was bragging (read: lying) to a cute counselor about how I was a great climber and had done a lot whilst living in Hawaii. She found out that it wasn't true as soon as I got to the "crux" of the climb. I'm not sure how much she liked me bragging to her after that. I didn't climb again until I "learned" in Scotland many years later (grad school), and wouldn't climb in Acadia again until I came home from school.

Even then, I haven't climbed much in my hometown. It's odd because there is so much climbing here. I just haven't had the opportunities or partners either willing to come here or living here already. When I come home, I'm usually here to visit family and go on hikes and stuff (that's what my current vacation is like). I've always wanted to explore more, and yesterday I did just that.

When I came back from school, a friend from the UK (Kevin - the gentleman with whom I learned to climb with), flew over and visited for a few weeks. The goal was to climb, a lot, and we did. We hit Otter Cliffs, Precipice and South Bubble nearly every day. But that was before the "new" Acadia guide by Jeff Butterfield came out. I'm not sure who wrote the old one, but I don't remember being able to find much information on Great Head Promontory. I knew the cliff was high, but I had always believed it was slopey from the top to the sea. I honestly thought there wasn't a spot on Great Head where one couldn't walk from the top down to the water. This is so odd because I used to help my uncle from time to time on his lobster boat. We certainly fished around Sand Beach and Great Head. I know we fished off Egg Rock Lighthouse (an island just across from Great Head), and yet I never gathered the information I was seeing: a tall, burly 100-foot tall cliff rising right out of the cold Atlantic Ocean.

I set out yesterday to find this cliff, and not get lost trying to do so (if anyone knows the Great Head trails - stop laughing. I've honestly gotten lost looking for these cliffs before. I've always ended up at Sand Beach. I can't explain it. I'm local to the area, and can't explain it). My cousin and her husband were up from Providence visiting and wanted to tag along (I've just recently found out that they have discovered climbing as well, and was going to take them out. They had to leave early that afternoon, however, so scouting was going to be it that day). Despite both of them growing up in Bar Harbor as well, neither of them had climbed in Acadia either. For certain, they had seen the climbing at Otter Cliffs, have hiked the Precipice and South Bubble (oh yeah, those rungs on South Bubble that are all rusted out mid-way up the cliff, that used to be a hiking trail. I did that for the first time with my dog when I was three or four years old. It wasn't a scary hike then, but today it looks as if it was back then). It is easy to see climbers on those cliffs because they are all high-profile locations. For one, all three are, for the most part viewable from the Park Loop Road. They are also high-visit areas. This is mainly because of the views they offer, though accessibility doesn't hurt either. Great Head, on the other hand, despite it's prominence along the coast and viewability from the Park Loop Road, isn't really as accessible. It is somewhat off the beaten trail, and the cliffs are not viewable from Sand Beach, the most common place from which to view and / or approach Great Head.

Another thing to consider is the fact that, as a kid growing up, I've always been familiar with the hike on Great Head to and from its parking lot to Sand Beach. This is because this approach to the beach is a back way in when the beach is crowded and you don't feel like paying the tolls just before the beach's entrance. In other words, the Great Head trail has always been a means to an end: getting to the beach (because who in their right mind would go swimming at Great Head?).

Anyway, we got to the Great Head parking lot and headed in. Within ten minutes we were sitting on top of the cliffs and all three of us were questioning our identities because, as I said, these cliffs have been here all along and we had no clue. But there they were, and we were rather excited to see them, even if discovering the cliffs made us feel a little like tourists, if only for a few moments.

There are three main areas to Great Head: Left Wall, Cavern and Alcove. The latter two are accessible only by rappel, and one must take care to watch the tides because the belay area is either underwater at high tide or is so damn close to being underwater that one might get washed out to see by a rouge wave (See Michael Reardon). But Left Wall seems to be pretty accessible during all tides and has quite a range of climbing (5.7-5.11). The Cavern is mostly advanced climbing with most routes being in the hard 5.10 to 5.11 range. The Alcove has some easier routes, but it is also on the harder end of the spectrum. We found that the area is mostly mixed in terms of pro; some routes are bolted, some are not and some are bolted only where needed. There are many bolts at the top of the routes for top-belaying and / or rappelling. The Left Wall is approachable by walking down the slabs to the right (if on top of the cliff facing the sea). We were amazed at what we were seeing. The routes simply looked stunning, clean and obvious.

One thing to always consider, however, is just how intimidating the rock and ocean are. Even on easy climbs, the rock always has this feel of the elements polishing it off. Stability is something I've always feared whilst climbing the sea cliffs of Acadia. Maybe, however, that's because I wasn't a very strong climber when I first and last climbed here. But the roar of the sea against the shore? That never goes away. And yes, rogue waves are common here. They do wash people out to see. It's happened many times in my lifetime. One almost feels better climbing than on belay. I remember belaying at Otter Cliffs for the first time with one eye on my climber and another on the waves crashing behind me, and that was at low tide when the waves were a good twenty feet away from the base of the cliff. Great Head is much more intimidating than Otter Cliffs are, so understand that you've been warned.

In any case, no climbing for me this week, but I'm glad I got out to scout and see the routes. I've been doing a bit of that lately, and it feels good. I feel as if I'm taking another step toward advancing my climbing skills. I'm not sure what it means now that I'm taking day or side trips to scout crags and not climb them, but I'm happy with the development. I hope to be climbing Great Head for the first time soon.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Rumney - Taking the Injured Thumb Outside and On Lead

Yesterday was my first day testing my recovering thumb both outside and on lead, and I have to say that I think I did fairly well. I was nervous, and my leg shook like crazy at times to prove that was true - even on easy routes I had climbed clean before.

The day started with "Cody" picking me up at 7am in an attempt to get to Rumney by 9am. We were to meet "Sherpa", who, by the way, requested a new nickname but won't get one because, to be honest, has a pretty good story to back her nickname up. As it turned out, our timing was perfect. As we drove into the parking lot, "Sherpa" was just getting out of her car. A few minutes later, we were on our way to Upper Vader to warm up on a few easy routes before hitting Jimmy Cliff later in the day.

The long hike up to Upper Vader wasn't as bad as it has been in the past. I think I'm getting used to hitting that section of the mountain. I've been to Rumney several times this year and have hit Upper Vader and Jimmy Cliff two or three times. This is because each cliff has some of the best easy to moderate climbing at Rumney, and neither are guaranteed to busy like the Meadows and 5.8 Crag are.

No one was there when we arrived, so we had our choice of routes and started on a nice 5.6 called Blustery Day that leads up to the right of the pumpy roof climb, Squall (5.10d). All three of us led the route, despite "Sherpa"'s initial reluctance, and then we moved on to Frosted Flakes (5.7) and Victim of Love (5.8) before deciding to hit Lower Vader where Yoda (5.9) and Obi Wan Ryobi (5.9) awaited. (as an aside, both "Sherpa" and "Cody" ran up Pee Wee (5.4) and had a fun time doing different variations). I felt fine on all three routes, but I definitely felt nervous once above the clip on all three routes. I think that despite the pain in my thumb having left, I am still suffering from a lack of squeezing strength. It is this lack of confidence that freaked me out. Still, the top part of Victim of Love has always stumped me. It is slightly overhanging with a series of slopers for hand holds and no feet. Not having a strong thumb worried me, but for some reason I found a sequence this time that allowed me to fly through the top better than I ever have before. It turns out that there is a high step that changes one of the slopers into a sort of lieback / Gaston. One pump up with a little pressure from the left toes, and the top ledge is very easily gained. I was nervous, but surprised and happy at the same time.

As I mentioned above, "Cody" wanted to hit Lower Vader to jump specifically on Obi Wan Ryobi, which I don't think I have done yet. I have done Yoda, and was a little nervous about getting on something so awkward and steep. I really felt that Yoda was going to require a gripping strength I wasn't sure I possessed yet. But, luck was on my side. As we were heading down, a few of "Cody"'s friends, whom we were to have met up with at some point in the day, heard her voice through the trees and called out. After a brief discussion, the two guys headed down to Waimea and we decided to go up to Jimmy Cliff so that I could take another run at Lonesome Dove (5.10a - my first outdoor 5.10 lead). I had climbed Lonesome Dove clean the first time, but I wanted to see how I'd do as an injured bird. As time would have it, we didn't make it to the phenomenal arrete on the right side, and I was a bit bummed about that. Instead, "Cody" and I ran up Junco (5.8 - probably the best 5.8 at Rumney) and traversed across to set up a top rope of Hammond Organ (5.10d). In the meantime, "Sherpa" ran out of draws on a 5.7 chimney that is not in the guidebook, and had to rerun the route just to get to the top. Her partner, who needs a nickname, hmmm... "Video" (because she's a video editor), made for a nice foursome in the group while "Cody" and I worked Hammond Organ (to be clear, "Sherpa" and "Video" also ran the route).

"Cody" was really pushing me to lead Hammond Organ, and I was really thinking about it. But I'm glad I top roped it first. There are two or three hidden moves on the route at crucial moments. Now that I know how to climb the route, I don't think it will be a big deal to lead. The holds are all there, it's just that it took some playing to find where they were. There is definitely a sequence all the way through the route, so I recommend that you study it well before jumping on it.

Because we had to get back early, that ended our day. "Cody" and "Sherpa" then jumped in the Baker River at the bottom of the mountain while I waded out and sunned on a rock. "Video" met up with her friends and took off. We grabbed dinner, hit traffic and were late getting in despite our attempts to get in early. All in all, it was a good day.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Getting Stronger

On Sunday, I climbed for the first time since injuring my thumb while paddling out to an island in Maine on a camping trip. The injury was a contusion (bruise) on the bones around the top of my thumb. The past couple of weeks have been wrought with wearing a stinky, neoprene SPICA splint (to keep my thumb from doing things when it isn't doing anything), keeping ibuprofen in my bloodstream to limit inflammation around the nerves, and me trying to pop my thumb joint out like I used to be able to do (I'm double jointed in both thumbs, but can't pop left thumb like I can my right. This is really a comfort thing. Kind of like sitting in one position for eight hours and needing to stretch. Well, I've been instinctively popping my thumbs all my life, just to give them a breather from being in the same position for hours on end - this doesn't hurt, by the way - and now my left thumb is begging me to let me pop it. I feel badly about this because I can't. Anyway).

I went to the gym on Sunday to test my thumb to see if I could grip, put weight on it, pinch, hook, grab, etc. It really hurt on some climbs, particularly ones where I had to wrap my thumb around the hold for balance, even when the weight was on my fingers. This was a concern for me because I really wanted this bruise to be something that just went away. Unfortunately, it felt as if it was going to linger for months, as had a fellow MassClimber has had happen to her contusion on her wrist. I felt stupid for climbing Sunday and figured that I had two choices: either shut down for six months and let it heal properly, or climb easy grades and extend the recovery period out several months more (maybe even up to a full year). I still haven't made a choice, but I did go climbing last night.

In truth, I think I had a date, but I'm not sure. I met her online, but only because she recognized my picture as someone from the gym. So I don't know what that means (I had a good time, by the way, so maybe it was a date. I don't know. We'll see). I digress. I ended up climbing Thursday because I was meeting someone, not because I had decided to climb easy climbs and let the recovery period linger. But still, my thumb was sore Monday morning and I was curious just how much climbing was going to hurt me (read: hurt me more than I'm already hurt). So I used last night as another testing night. All week I've been wearing my splint regularly during the day (should wear it at night too) and taking my ibuprofen. I've been somewhat careful with not using my thumb for things like unscrewing bottles of OJ or opening bags of chips (it's the squeezing that hurts). It was sore on Monday, but not so much more than it has been the past week on Tuesday. Wednesday was fine, and so was Thursday.

Once at the gym, I started slowly. I stretched, which I always do anyway, and, upon meeting the person I was supposed to meet, I got on 5.8s and 5.7s to start. The thumb felt fine. I then got on a couple of 5.8+ and 5.9s. Again, it was fine. I think that if I felt any soreness or pain at all, then it was anticipated. In other words, I created the pain because I thought it should have been there. But I'm not 100% sure of that, so maybe the pain was real. In any case, I really struggled on a 5.10c on Sunday that I had been cruising in previous weeks (pre-injury). There were some holds on that particular route that really sent my nerves around the joint into a frenzy. I took twice and was frustrated. Last night, however, I ran up it with no takes, and didn't feel any pain. Soreness? Yes. Pain? No. Is that a big difference? I don't know.

Later in the evening, I decided to jump on a 5.11, which really isn't an 11, but I've already discussed this in another post. The point was that I wanted to see just how much I needed my thumb to get up a harder route. I ran up it clean and had no problems doing so.

I don't think I'm back, but I getting stronger and feeling better. I'm not sure when I'll be able to pop my thumb again, and I'm not sure when I'll take the splint off for good, but as long as I'm not feeling pain while climbing I should be on the mend. I'm glad it doesn't hurt so much that I can't climb at all. Then I wouldn't be able to post this unread drivel on the web for all to see. God forbid.