Friday, October 19, 2007

New Training Method

There are two main reasons why I climb: 1) because of the emotional / psychological benefits I get from constantly challenging my fears and healing my damaged soul and; 2) because it is an exercise that is similar to weightlifting without the boring repetition. I used to lift a lot in college and, despite getting considerably stronger over time, I never really got the benefits I wanted because I never felt challenged enough. Sure, I could always go up in weight or do more reps, but how does that keep the mind interested in keeping the body fit? For me, it doesn't.

So that's why I became hooked on climbing when I did. It wasn't just the "blow my mind into therapy" that struck me, it was the notion that I didn't have to go to the gym and two three sets of this, two sets of that and one, long set of that. As one might expect, climbing is a sport that offers many challenges that never get old.

However, just because climbing offers variety, that does not mean that one seeks variety necessarily. If one wants to improve, then one needs to train in order to improve. Climbing itself will help, but if one does not have the will power to climb using techniques that are normally difficult, then one will likely stay with the same type of technique over and over again. For some people, that is not a problem, but it is for me for two reasons: 1) I like variety and don't want to stay on crimpers all the time and; 2) climbing only strengthens what is already strong unless one works on those weak areas. The reason why climbing only strengthens what is already strong is demonstrated through a simple example: one only falls where one is weak. Think about that for a moment. If you weren't weak, then you wouldn't fall. Sure, there are many reasons why people fall, but all of those reasons can be attributed to some sort of weakness. For example, a fall due to fatigue may be relevant to a general lack of endurance, or it could be a lack of strength in the particular muscles that are being worked at that moment in time. If one falls repeatedly on over-hanging routes (see Greg vigorously raising his hand) then it means that one is weak in the abs (or the body's core). If one falls on crimpers, then one is weak in the forearms or lacks the core strength to use one's legs. Naturally, there are many variations and excuses that folks can use, but if you fall it isn't because you were strong, because you wouldn't have fallen.

Now then, just to hammer this a little bit more, a fall happens at a particular point or moment in time; when the muscles that are being called upon are no longer useful enough to make the transition from one hold to the next. This is a precise moment in time that is only attributed to that particular moment. I want to note this because I am aware of a specific argument that folks have made against this argument of mine: what happens when a crimp climber gets through a tough sloper section and then, after that, falls on a crimp hold above the sloper section? The answer is still clear as day. The crimp climber wasn't strong enough on crimps after sloper holds. In other words, the slopers wore the climber out so much that the muscles used for climbing in general were too fatigued to hold on. What I'm saying here is not that the crimp muscles specifically (fingers, forearms) were tired (because the open-hand muscles were used for the slopers), but more that the larger muscles used to compensate for being a weak sloper-climber were used too much for the smaller crimp muscles to compensate for the lack of strength in the larger muscles on the other end. It wasn't the smaller muscles that caused the failure, but the larger ones instead. But that is just one example. Naturally, it can happen in reverse, too. There will always be a weakness somewhere right before a fall. If one wants to stop falling, one should work the weaker muscles and that is not always done by simply climbing. One has to climb specific routes in order to isolate the weak muscles.

OK, so that means that if one is weak in one area of climbing then one should focus on that body part. That's OK for me so long, in my mind, that I'm not doing the boring repetitions. As long as there is variety, I can work on cracks versus faces, crimps versus slopers, or overhangs versus low-angle slabs. But, as I mentioned above, climbing isn't all physical, is it? No, it's not, and that is also a weakness.

I'm not going to go into the whole "damaged" soul thing, but let's just say that through my quest for the meaning of life (specifically, my life: footnote - Theory of Moral Sentiments, by Adam Smith), I feel the need to find ways of personal sufferance so that I can work through whatever problems or issues I may have. Probably the biggest issue I have is overcoming my fears of over overcoming fears. I know, that sounds redundant, but it isn't. When I get moving, I have no problem sticking my head under the executioner's axe. I've learned to accept that if I'm going to be honest and blunt about how I feel about people then I need to be able to be blunt and honest about myself (which, essentially, means accepting others' viewpoints of me). But the problem isn't overcoming those fears, its overcoming the fear of knowing that there could be unforeseen difficulties or consequences. In other words, once I realize that something is going to hurt, I'm OK with letting it hurt. It's the unknown that scares me the most.

Now what the hell does this have to do with climbing? Well, I've been stuck on 5.8s all summer long. Yes, these are trad routes and one typically climbs a couple grades lower than sport or in the gym when leading trad, but I know I can make harder moves and sustain those moves long enough to place gear, chalk up, and / or continue climbing. Earlier this summer, as I was getting to know my capabilities, I was OK with climbing 5.8 because I wasn't sure how I'd do. But as the summer progressed, I started to get this itch in my heart that was telling me to climb harder. Well, I didn't climb harder because I wasn't sure if I could do it or not. It turns out I was OK not knowing about 5.8 but not OK not knowing about 5.9. Even though I was leading 5.11 in the gym, I was still afraid of 5.9 or 5.10 outside. This bothered me, but not because I knew I could pull the moves. It was because I was afraid, and being afraid made me very, very disappointed in myself. Emotionally, it got to a point where I knew I had to find a way to get over it.

So how does one train for this? Easy - go to the gym, if that's your choice location, which it is mine, and lead stuff that is out of range both physically and mentally. For me, that's committing or overhanging routes. I've never been afraid of exposure, but I've always been afraid of committing to exposure. I can stand on the edge of a cliff all day long with my legs dangling off into open space, but if you ask me to do jumping jacks on the edge...forget about it.

The idea for me is to get to a point where I'm comfortable pushing myself. It's not really about falling as much as it is about quitting. I don't want to give up on myself. Too many other people have done that already. I don't need me to be in that boat with them. So, every time I go to the gym this winter, which will be several times per week once the cold air keeps me inside, I will have my climbing partner choose a route for me that is out of my range. I will then lead that route and conquer my fears until I'm comfortable getting on something harder or, if Paralysis at Poke-O-Moonshine comes about again, something unexpected. If I get on something harder and I know it is hard, then of course the goal is to climb it clean. But if I get on something unexpected, then the goal to know that I can work through it. In the end, however, the goal is to not be afraid about testing my limits and not be afraid when I get there or above my limits.

I started my training on Saturday and continued it last night. I asked my partners to choose for me so that my own fears and uncertainties don't sell me short. In other words, I know what my mental state is because I'm living it. So if my limit is ordinarily 5.10c, let's say, and I'm not feeling strong then I may cop out and jump on a 5.10a and call that a challenge. However, if my partner knows my limit is 5.10c, but doesn't know my mental state of mind, then my partner will choose a 5.10c for me. There's a big difference there, and I think that will get me to the next step: being able to be strong and secure enough to choose my own challenges.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

If I Could Have Just One Weekend...

The first words that came out of "Jello"'s mouth upon my late arrival last Friday night were both uplifting, expected and discouraging all at once.

Jello: Guess what I forgot this time?
Me: Harness?
Jello: No.
Me: Sleeping bag?
Jello: No.
Me: Gear?
Jello: No.
Me: Can't be important then.
Jello: Not really. Just my headlamp.
Me: Eh, that's OK. We've both walked down this path in the dark before. That shouldn't a problem.


Our goal for the weekend was singular: to onsight They Died Laughing (5.9+) in the North End. We had already tackled Bird's Nest (5.9) during our previous stay in the land of sandbagged 5.9s, and had drooled over the seemingly easier-to-protect crack to the left before moving on to Toe Crack (5.7) later in the day. We vowed then to return, but we didn't know when. Saturday was to be that day, until...pitter, pitter, patter, pitter, patter, patter, patter, patter.

Me: Is that rain?
Jello: That's rain.
Me: Upper Left Wall tomorrow?
Jello: I imagine. The North End doesn't dry that well.
Me: Sigh.

When we finally rose (a good two hours after we had wanted to get up), it was obvious that the damage had been done. The rain had fallen hard enough that we knew that the tree-covered North End Wall would have to wait until Sunday. Our plans had changed, and we decided to see if Thin Air (5.6) was available. At 10am, it was clear that it wasn't. That's when I mentioned Recompense (5.9). "Jello" was instantly hesitant. He had heard my story of the last time I had been up there, and, even if that wasn't his only reason for being hesitant, he was cautious and steered me to Funhouse (5.7) instead. If he couldn't get on They Died Laughing, then he wanted to finish Upper Refuse (5.5) because he hadn't been all the way up. But first, we had to get up Funhouse.

Funhouse (5.7) - 2 pitches - trad - make your own anchors - "Jello" and Greg each led

There isn't much to say about this route, except that it's damn hard with a heavy pack on one's back. But hey, what route isn't? And what kind of story exists that doesn't tell about mine and "Jello"'s exploits without some kind of stupid inconvenience? Not much of one, to be sure. So, even though the pack didn't really make a difference this time around, I'll still say it was heavy and a serious pain in my ass. The good thing is that we both share the pain. That's why this partnership has worked so well.

Follow the crack / corner / dihedral (whatever you want to call it) up to the ledge, build an anchor and wait for the "uhhh"s and "arrgghhh"s of the second with the heavy pack as he brings up the rear.

Start the second pitch in the crack and follow that up until the trees at the large ledge come into view. Pick a tree and belay. Whatever you do, don't go to the same spot where "Jello" dropped a load a few weeks back at the top of Bombardment. Why? Let's just say that there are two loads there now.

As a side story, we were still deciding on which route to do - Funhouse or Pooh (5.8) - when a group of three folks came up from below and wanted to know what route we were getting on. We told them we hadn't decided yet, but also asked what they wanted to do. They said Pooh, so we took Funhouse instead. This, I believe, was the first moment of good karma we displayed that weekend. I have to say, it feels nice to do good things and not worry about ego.

Anyway, that group of three had one climber who was practicing for the day on his rescues. As it turns out, he was a guy from Seattle who was going to take his week-long IMGA (or is it AMGA?) climbing instructor's exam. Because we were on parallel runs, we chatted a bit and got to know them some. They were a nice group of folks, and fun to talk to.

Upper Refuse (5.5) - 2 pitches (3 if you want to break it out) - trad - 2 piton anchor at the top of pitch #1 and trees at various spots above that - Greg and "Jello" each led.

"Jello" hadn't done the top two pitches, so I led the first pitch. This route is on the large ledge that is a short hike and small boulder problem to the right of the top of Funhouse. Look for the obvious right-facing corner that is to the left of a crack and another, smaller dihedral that has a smaller roof about midway up. Upper Refuse is essentially the low angle face on the left of that ledge.

There are a lot of variations to this route, but basically follow the crack on the left until one gets about a third of the way up to the ledge with the tree about mid-way up the cliff. At that point, fade right onto the easy face and climb up to the start of a block system that could also be called a short notch. There will be two pitons here, and you can use those as an anchor.

I led this pitch, and while I was belaying "Jello", I was leaning out on my anchor and checking out the route below: Book of Solemnity (5.9+), which is the other, smaller-looking dihedral to the right of Upper Refuse. I don't know why this is so, but for some reason I was feeling strong on Saturday, and wasn't intimidated by my history on climbs such as Recompense or potentially difficult climbs such as Book of Solemnity. I kind of wanted my first 5.10, which some books call this route, and felt strong enough to get on it. But our first goal was to get up Upper Refuse and find a way to rap back down because we had left our gear with the kind folks from Seattle who had just come up Pooh to the same ledge we were on.

For the second pitch, go up the notch and either belay at the tree just above, or continue past it onto the easy face / crack before turning left to the next ledge at the top of Cathedral Ledge. If one wants to walk off, then just hike up from there and get to the road that cars use to get to the top (wimps). If one wants to rap off, then, at the top of the crack, turn right and scramble down to a somewhat hidden ledge. There are chains here that lead back down to the top of the first pitch of Book of Solemnity.

We decided to rap, but not without some difficulty. Because we couldn't see the climbers below us, we guessed at the mid-point of the rope and shuffled it down. I went first, and got about ten feet from the ledge when I noticed that the right end of the rope extended about ten feet below the ledge, and the left end was short about ten feet. Gulp. It was OK, however, because I had set myself up with a kleimheist as a back up knot. I simply then took the right end of the rope out of my belay device (I was backed up, remember), and tied that into my belay loop. What did that do? It essentially put me on self-belay. All I had to do then was lower myself on the left rope. Tadaaaa!

"Jello" came down once I equalized the rope, which was, by the way, just long enough to get to the ledge. At that point, we had our second and third good karma moments: 1) if we had pulled the rope then we would have dropped the rope onto two climbers below us on Women in Love (5.12); and 2) the folks from Seattle were on Book of Solemnity practicing rescues. Most people would have complained about #2 considering the route's popularity, but we're two easy-going guys, and we understand that life doesn't revolve around us. We waited patiently until the two climbers on Women in Love were out of the way and then rapped off from there. However, I need to point out that if one raps off from this ledge DO NOT RAP DIRECTLY BELOW THE LEDGE. Why? Because there's really nothing there at the bottom. Sure, I found a ledge, but that ledge is just above a wide chimney that leads all the way down to the bottom of the cliff. One misstep and you're a goner. Take my advice and angle left back toward the main ledge.

Black Lung (5.8) - 1 pitch variation to start Upper Refuse that finishes on the upper sections of Upper Refuse - trad - Climb to the two pitons noted above - Greg Led

I know two guys who are going to ring some alarms when I say this, but Black Lung isn't a 5.8. It's a 5.7 in disguise. The crux really isn't that tough. It is heady, but the move isn't that tough. Anyway, this the right-fading crack directly in between Upper Refuse and Book of Solemnity. Simply put, climb the crack to the pitons and finish on Upper Refuse.

I started this route with droplets of rain spitting from the heavens. There were a lot of people on the Upper Refuse bottom ledge, and we wanted to get up ahead of folks so we didn't get caught in the rain. However, karma number four developed as I approached the pitons. About five feet below me was a climber coming up Upper Refuse. I had the option staying at the pitons or heading to the tree above. I asked the kid what he wanted to do and he chose the tree, so I chose the pitons. He went up and "Jello" followed me. As it was, there was already another party on the ledge with the tree, so it was OK because we wouldn't have to deal with other people - a thought that had crossed my mind as I asked the kid what he wanted to do. It wasn't really raining yet, so we were OK hanging in that spot until they moved on. But then it started to rain. We looked up and saw the two teams still here. It started to rain a bit more. We looked up again, and they were still there. It started to rain harder. We didn't bother to look up because he heard the belayor yell three times, "Are you at the top yet? Have you stopped climbing? Are you off belay?". Hey, I was a noob at one point, too, so I hope they learned from this. If not, may they never leave a team in the rain again, the bastards!

Finally, they got off the ledge and we went up. The final pitch was a waterfall, but an easy one. It didn't take long for us to hike down and decide that it was too wet to cook outside. We went to the Moat for a beer and soup instead.
The Moat

The Moat is a bar that is to the left of downtown North Conway if one is driving on River Road back toward NoCo. It will be about a mile down on the left, after the hospital. It is a popular place, and I recommend the burger and chili. Damn, that stuff was good. But this isn't why I mention this. We were to maybe meet two gentleman from, which we didn't until later, and instead started talking to this guy who happened to be sitting next to us. BTW - good karma #4 was when we put our names on the wait list (45 minutes) and then got a seat at the bar. I went back and told the host to take our names off because we didn't need to wait anymore.

Why is this casual, random conversation important? Well, because we ended up climbing with the guy the next day. Why else it worth noting? Because he, too, was in NoCo for the instructor's exam. In fact, he was supposed to meet the guy from Seattle that night. Small world. I'll call this new guy "Random".


"Random" camped out in his car in the lot where we parked our cars. We didn't see the two guys from at the Moat that night, but I was so paranoid about the sound of the light rain on the tent and accompanying rushing water of the stream below us that I swore I heard footsteps. It turned out that I did. The two gents we were to meet found us and our camping spot. The next morning we woke up to more wet ground (so no They Died Laughing), and the chit chat of the two men we were looking for Saturday night under a tarp with their stove and coffee all ready to go (I don't drink coffee, but they offered and that should be noted). "Random" awoke soon after, and the five of us hung out for the better part of the morning until it seemed warm and dry enough to try to get on a decent climb. What was considered decent? Something easy and something that seemed as if it would dry easily. That meant it was going to be my first venture to NoCo's other famous cliff, Whitehorse.

Standard Route (5.5) - 7 pitches - trad - make your own anchors, for the most part - very runout in sections - "Jello", Greg and "Random" switched leads

I had never been to Whitehorse before, and didn't know what to expect. I knew it was all slabs and run out, but I wasn't sure what that meant exactly. Did that mean there simply weren't any cracks up there to place gear? Did it mean that the runouts would produce hairy fall potential? Was I going to die? I have run out my fair share of routes, some of which were not intentional runouts, but that doesn't mean I'm willing to put myself in a position where the elements could take my life. After all, I want to go out either on my own terms or through an event that is totally out of my control. Climbing runout slabs fits neither of those options, so when "Random" said that the approach to the first belay station went up what looked like a slab of wet, 5.8 granite, I tucked in my sack, took a deep breath and "trusted" that everything was going to be alright.

"Random" made it up to the belay ledge fine, though he did it with some trepidation in his otherwise sure feet. "Jello", having gone up five feet and slipped off only to catch himself from sliding another ten feet to the bottom by one handedly snatching out of thin air a dead tree that was conveniently resting where we were climbing, decided to take my approach and put his climbing shoes on first. While he did that, I carefully and swiftly worked my way up the slick rock to a steeper section when, as luck would have it, "Random" shouted down from the belay ledge, "I led you guys astray. The approach is to the left. Go back down. It's a lot easier that way."

If it's one thing I hate more than psyching myself out, it's down climbing a wet slab. How does one do this without looking like Porky Pig talks? Well, the answer is one does so very carefully. It took me about ten minutes, but I finally worked my way back to the tree where I could place my hands and feet on something solid. There I was, ten feet from the bottom. This was easy. I had just worked my way through the hard part. Now all I had to do was walk down while holding the equivalent of a staircase railing. Naturally, when I was two feet from solid ground...I slipped. It wasn't much of a slip; kind of like slipping on an icy set of front steps but catching oneself before one sends one's back into spasms by landing awkwardly on the crooked ground (raise your hands if you speak from experience: now picture Greg not just raising his hand but waving vigorously for attention just to make sure that you know that he does speak from experience as well). The problem with the slip, and the reason I mention it? Remember that gash on my ankle I got from climbing Mr. Clean at Barkeater Cliffs? I'll be damned if that thing wasn't opened up like a tomato dropped from the top of a third-story building. I'm telling you, that's pain, and not just from the open wound, but from the knowledge that I could have slipped where it was more likely and instead slipped where I shouldn't have. Stupidity hurts, too.

Anyway, we switched leads all the way up. I know I usually break out my routes by pitch, but this post is ridiculously late and I'm just going to say that we did the direct route. Basically, this goes straight up to a set of bolts both below and to the right of the large, obvious, exfoliating, arching roof that dominates the right side of the cliff. We could have then traversed left to follow the crack, by why do that when there's beautiful pockets leading the way up the next anchor (slings with rap rings)? We then followed the crack right until it ended and went up over the face to the upper slabs, which, by the way, one cannot see from below. From there, we found out that the wasn't enough rope to make it to the top with 60m ropes. So we simul-climbed from the large fir tree that is to the left of the next crack line and an easy, obvious dike leading upward like a true stairway to heaven (or, in my case, hell. Hey, no one said you had to go straight down first. I firmly believe St. Peter will be giving me my marching orders, just not through the pearly gates). I've since learned that most people untie here, but that's OK. This last pitch is probably no more than fourth class. Seriously, I was breathing heavy from the "walk" up. It was more of a cardio workout than a climb.

Anyway, we hiked down after that and decided that we'd take on Inferno (5.8). "Random" climbed the first pitch, and, while "Jello" was climbing the second pitch, "Random" wondered aloud what time his exam meeting was that evening. No sooner than the words had come out of his mouth did his phone ring:

"Random": Hello? Hey, yeah, I am coming to the meeting, what time is it? It's at 6pm? OK, what time is it now? Uh, it's 6pm? Huh. Well, I, uh, I'm going to be a bit late. Yeah, you see, I'm belaying the leader and, uh, well, I can't retreat until I get up. Uh huh. I'll see you then. Bye.


As soon as "Jello" got up the route, "Random" raced to the top of the second pitch. By the time I got up, "Random" was gone. That was OK, because it was really starting to get dark. We saw that there were some folks rapping off another route on the other side of the ledge, so we walked over and asked if we could catch a ride. The group happily let us through, but not without them having to shine their headlamps on our rap devices to ensure we were properly locked in. Go back and read that sentence again. Uh huh. Now go all the way to the top of this post and read the initial conversation.

Uh huh.


You got it.

Now imagine walking through your bedroom at night without any light whatsoever. Now imagine that it's not your room, but someone else's. Now imagine that feeling you get when you wake up in a strange room and forget, just for a few moments, where you are, except in the dark, with wet roots under your feet and a windy trail to the bathroom and back to the bedroom. For the love of God, I don't think we'll have an adventureless, perfect weekend. I'm starting to think that maybe, just maybe, our climbing weekends aren't about the climbing after all. Instead, it's about survival. At some point, and I hope this isn't true, we may become eligible for the Darwin Awards.


Still, we had our final good karma moment when "Random" trusted us to take his rope and remaining gear back with us to the campsite. He picked it up the next morning before going off to start his week-long test. I hope he did well.

Monday was a rainout, so we headed home without so much as a whimper (well, the stupid girl at Dunkin Donuts complained that my money was wet, but what the hell does she know?). They Died Laughing remained conqueredless and so did Recompense. That's OK. There will always be a time for beating back the demons. It just wasn't our time this time around. I'm off to the 'Gunks this weekend. Wish me luck.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Upper Tiers at Poke-O-Moonshine

Me: If I could have just one weekend when I didn't have to bushwhack, I'd be in eternal heaven.
"Jello": Suck it up, pussy. This is how we get there.

A 6:30am wake-up call was followed by an hour's hike straight up the left side of Poke-O-Moonshine, only to be overshadowed by yet another adventure to find hardly sought after routes in places no one with any sanity ever goes. Our goal on Sunday was to hit the Upper Tiers section of Poke-O, if only because the approach to the popular sections were too easy, too well-populated and "not there", as Sir Edmund Hillary might have muttered if Everest was only the second tallest mountain in the world. Our team of four slugged its way up to the old fire ranger's house and pushed right into a dry stream bed, thick brush that kept telling us it didn't want us to climb there that day, and onto the base of cliffs that no one can see from below. We were alone to explore, laugh and climb whatever the fuck we wanted to climb. "Chuck" and "Utah" (I didn't give him a name the last time, but there it is, now) went off in search of a hidden gem of a 5.6 that supposedly sat right on the edge of the world as they saw it before them. "Jello" and I found Fairview (5.8), a series of parallel cracks that finish with a slick mantle up on to a nearly unforgiving slab. Our hands were sore from the day before, but we didn't care. There's only one chance to climb that day, right?

Fairview (5.8) - 1 pitch - trad - belay off a large spruce at the top or set an anchor in the crack at the top of the climb - Poke-O-Moonshine - Upper Tiers

This climb starts about 150 feet to the right of the obvious right-facing corner on the left edge of the taller section of Upper Tiers. Sound confusing? Trust me. Just walk in, find the tallest sections and you'll see the the corner hanging tantalizingly above a roof with a 5.11 crack emerging out into the sun (if it's shining, which it was for us that day). Then go 150 feet to the right and find the right-hand crack that goes up about 10 feet and then steps left to another crack for another 10 feet. The route then steps left again and follows the last crack up to the slopey top.

"Jello" led this route to the very last move and had to back down. I don't blame him, either. When I got on the first couple of sections I immediately howled in pain, as the sharp rock turned my hands into a braille art canvas complete with grandma's needlepoint book cover. I felt as if I was being stitched into a series of moves I never would have considered had it not been my cams left at the top.

I placed one hand after another in and stepped across and up with one toe-torque after another. Finally, I reached the top, plopped a small tri-cam in the uppermost hold and went for it: layback, get a tricky right foot up high, slap-slap-slap for the best available sloper, left foot comes up, keep from squatting backwards and...and...breathe...breathe...go...wait...go...nope...PUSH to the crimp that I hoped was there. With my heart racing, I pulled my feet up over the edge and slowly walked to safety. "Jello" came up after me, felt the same anxiety that I did, and swore he'd kick the guidebook author's ass if he ever saw him.

"Jello": That's no fucking 5.8! I would have fallen on my ass! Psychological crux my foot! That fucker's going to get someone killed someday. That's a real crux. The asshole took an onsight away from me. I'LL KICK HIS ASS!

We hurried downhill soon after that because "Utah" and "Jello" had to get back to work. "Chuck" and I hopped in the car, took a picture of Poke-O on our way out and headed home. Damn, if the 'Dacks were that much closer I'd be there more than anywhere else.

All this talk of crack lately makes me wish I could add audio to my blog. Because I can't, here's a sample of how I feel about the nearing end of the climbing season ("Jello" won't have weekends off after this coming weekend. Bummer. Looks like I'm inside until Red Rocks):

Lullaby - The Cure
on candystripe legs the spiderman comes
softly through the shadow of the evening sun
stealing past the windows of the blissfully dead
looking for the victim shivering in bed
searching out fear in the gathering gloom and
a movement in the corner of the room!
and there is nothing i can do
when i realize with fright
that the spiderman is having me for dinner tonight!

quietly he laughs and shaking his head
creeps closer now
closer to the foot of the bed
and softer than shadow and quicker than flies
his arms are all around me and his tongue in my eyes
"be still be calm be quiet now my precious boy
don't struggle like that or i will only love you more
for it's much too late to get away or turn on the light
the spiderman is having you for dinner tonight"

and i feel like i'm being eaten
by a thousand million shivering furry holes
and i know that in the morning i will wake up
in the shivering cold

and the spiderman is always hungry...

"Come into my parlour", said the spider to the fly... "I have something here for you"

Losing My Palmolive Hands - Barkeater Cliffs

This weekend's trip consisted of me, "Chuck" and "Jello" finding ways to brutalize our bodies in ways we never planned and didn't expect. Our mission was to hit Barkeater Cliffs on Saturday and Poke-O-Moonshine Sunday, if time and weather allowed. We accomplished both to varying degrees.

The ride to Barkeater Cliffs from Willsboro was about an hour long in a chilly, low-hanging fog that did a nice job of cleaning the one-inch thick layer of dirt off the exterior of my car. We arrived at the parking lot and hiked in with the chill lingering in the air. We had paid attention to the weather forecast, and it was supposed to be sunny and warm all day. But lost somewhere in the radar and doppler signals was the real forecast: that of a biting wind that grabbed the cool air and whipped it through the dark valley where I was saving "Jello", once again, from a lack of proper clothing by offering my pullover even though I was shivering without it.

Big Bertha (5.6) - 1 pitch - trad - chains at the top

This was a nice route, but with the cold air stripping the heat that was generated in our hike up, the rock felt as brutal under my fingertips as a cheese grater feels on a raw day. Start this climb to the left of where the path emerges from the forest below. There will be large boulders all around, and a tree right at the base of the climb. Work up the first notch, and then layback the left-arching crack even though it feels as if it would be better to jam and use the left-hand face for feet. After that, get up the next notch and finish at the chains just below the roof.

Mr. Clean (5.8) - 1 pitch - trad - chains at the top

"Jello" had a story to go with this route. That morning at breakfast he recalled how he had been climbing at this cliff with two friends when one decided to take a run up this route. The kid didn't have enough large cams, so he ran it out a bit to the crux. Finally, he got just below the crux, about 15 feet off the ground, placed the best pieces he had and, just as he was about to clip...slipped off and found the hard ground beneath him. The poor kid refused to be carried out and instead crabwalked all the way back to the car. This time, "Jello" wanted to make sure he had enough proper-sized cams to make this work. We had mine, and he borrowed a couple of a co-worker. The result? Battle-scarred glory.

This route is to around the corner and to the right of Big Bertha. It's the beautiful crack in a wide dihedral that makes the obvious right-facing corner irrelevant. Head up the crack (jamming is hard work, but it'll get one up without pumping out) to the crux, which is a transition from the vertical crack to the left-arching flake. Then head up the notch to the chains below the roof. Don't forget to use the features on the left face to get through the crux. It'll feel exposed in the sense that one has to move away from the gear, but this move is actually pretty easy to make if one's head is in the game.

"Jello" went up the first crack to the crux (about 15 feet off the ground) four times and downclimbed each time. Not once did he fall or rest on the rope. Each time he downclimbed, stiffly, awkwardly and with a lot of pumped veins shooting adrenaline through his arms. He wanted the onsight. He didn't want to fall, and he was driven to get this route clean the first time after working all autumn on learning to climb cracks. Finally, on the fifth time, he found the holds on the left face and cranked through them. Three moves later through the arching flake, he was playing with jugs to the top. The ride down was one filled with shouts and fist-pumping. It was then my turn.

Let's be clear, I don't like cracks. Why? Because I'm a face climber who likes his hands to be no closer or further apart than shoulder distance width. I like my feet underneath my hands in such a way that allows me to control every move with grace. Punching my hands into the unknown where my feet are directly below my hands, and directly above my knees is not the secure feeling I enjoy. But with "Jello"'s obsession to learn to climb crack better, they, too, became my obsession. I wasn't going to lay this back, not like I had done to every other crack I couldn't face climb. I admit it. I was really afraid. I knew I didn't have the pain management that he did, and I most certainly didn't have the technical skill that he had learned through hard work and meticulous attention to detail. I got four moves up and peeled. I worked and worked and worked and worked. The whole thing seemed a nightmare made just for me. I could get into the crack and secure myself. That wasn't a problem at all. It was moving that stalled me. Because the crack was so close to the left face, I couldn't move about freely without feeling claustrophobic. In fact, despite having learned to torque my feet in cracks a long time ago, I couldn't help but leave my left ankle exposed enough for balance to constantly rub against the left face all the way up. When I finally came down, after a couple of rests, I felt the raw air nip at the exposed blood. It hurt, and so did my hands.

"Chuck" was up next, and after a long layoff from climbing, she did pretty well on this route. In fact, she run up the entire first crack with a layback that looked as gentle and smooth as a child swinging on the perfect push. When she came down, it was my turn to go back for the redpoint.

There isn't much to say except that I think I finally learned something the first time up. That's the way I work; in nearly all aspects of life. I fail at most things the first time around, but I always learn. I may even fail the second, third and fourth times around, but I'll always learn someting. At some point, something will snap inside me and I'll get it. Sometimes I won't even know that I got it, or what it is that I had just learned. But it'll come to me'll all come together and I won't even have to think about it. This is what happened: one hand after the other, one foot after the other, reach out to the features on the left face, layback up, drop the heel behind me, mantle, grab the arch and fly to the top. It feels almost as good now telling it as it did on the way up.

Fun City (5.7) - 1 pitch - trad - chains at the top

At times while I and "Jello" were working our way up the crack, "Chuck" was off looking for the next route. I tried a footless 5.8 that looked scarier than any footless 5.10 I'd ever done. I backed off that route after going up four times, and cleaned it the final time down. "Jello" didn't want to try it, and so we turned to the book.

While we were choosing Fun City as our next route, "Chuck" was walking back from finding that route with all smiles on her face.

"Chuck": Guess what guys?
Us: What?
"Chuck": Not only did I find more routes to the right, but I also found sunshine.
Everyone: Thank. You. Lord!!!!

We picked up the gear and headed to two of the finest looking cracks we'd seen (and we'd seen a lot of fine looking cracks the past few weeks). A short, 20-foot scramble to a small ledge led us to the base of Fun City and its 5.9+ variation. I was on lead for the first one and got up it with relative ease. There was one, notable exception, however. At this point, and because I have terrible circulation going to the far reaches of my body (sic - fingers and toes), my hands were in a lot of pain. Each time I cranked a hand-jam into the crack I grunted, groaned and generally complained enough to get "Jello" and "Chuck" to tease me and my wussiness. What was my response?

Me: Hey guys, leave me alone. I'm losing my Palmolive hands.

Ordinarily, a joke like that would get me a few more barbs, but not this time. This time, they just looked at me with stunned looks on their faces. It was as if they looked up and asked, "What did he just say? Did he just admit to have Palmolive hands? Do we even play off that?" The joke didn't go over as well as I expected it to go, but I do feel that it won't be as forgetable as I'd like it to be.

Anyway, the 5.7 is the the left-hand crack that follows the steps midway up to the upper crack just below the chains. You'll need larger cams at the top if you don't want to run it out.

We also did the 5.9+ variation, on toprope. This was the right-hand crack and, I've gotta tell you, this was a hard-on-the-hands crack with a serious move to get over the bulge at the top. If anyone plans on doing this variation, find the crimps inside the flaring cracks and get the feet up. The holds are better once over the top, but not much.

"Jello" worked his way up to the bulge, tried it several times and came down. "Chuck" got up there and found a nifty little undercling that allowed her to get just a little higher up than "Jello" had, but she, too, couldn't get over the bulge. Because I had to clean to gear at the top ("Jello" had set a directional anchor to keep us swinging into the right-facing corner), I yarded up to the top.

Yakapodu (5.6+) - 1 pitch - trad - build your own anchors at the top

It was dark, but we wanted to get another climb in before leaving. "Jello" led this route (follow the crack to the right of the bushy gully, step over the gully at the top and follow the easiest line straight to the top). I seconded the route just so we could get out of there. We hiked off, but, naturally, lost the trail mid-way down. Guess what we did instead? Yup, you guessed it. Bushwhacked.