Friday, January 25, 2008

MetroRock Climbing League: Week 2

Not going to say much except that we plummeted in the standings. "TMR" was trying to jump out of planes in 44mph winds in Florida for the week while "Gecko" was playing "too-dumb-to-know-that-I'm-snowboarding-with-killer-trees" in Utah at the same time. I was sick and thus scored a less-than-stellar 45 points (60 points per week is the goal - at least). I don't know how "RRC" scored, but he e-mailed me earlier this week complaining about our score (see! the infighting has begun). But all four of us are back this week, and because "TMR" pushed her limits last night to score 65 points, we came up with a song to commemorate her performance:

is our super-star
she climbed the hard-est
by far

No, we didn't steal it from a certain Andrew Llyod Webber rock opera (tongue-in-cheek).

Monday, January 21, 2008

Hough I Dialed in on the Nippletop and Got My Kicks on Dix, and Ice Climbed

I have a lofty goal for this winter. I want to summit all 46 of the 4000 foot peaks in the Adirondacks. I only have 38 left. Last weekend I was able to get hit in the knee with a splitting wedge, it's like the head of an axe but you hit it with a hammer. Suffice to say it's heavy, it's metal, and it hit me in the knee at high speed. Despite the injury I went and ice climbed one of the days and managed to fall on my ass. Probably seems pretty funny, especially since my pants were white, so now it looks like I shit my pants. This weekend was going to be better. I was going to do the entire Dix Range, which seemed feasible given my three day weekend.

I have a lofty goal for this winter. I want to summit all 46 of the 4000 foot peaks in the Adirondacks. I only have 38 left. Last weekend I was able to get hit in the knee with a splitting wedge, it's like the head of an axe but you hit it with a hammer. Suffice to say it's heavy, it's metal, and it hit me in the knee at high speed. Despite the injury I went and ice climbed one of the days and managed to fall on my ass. Probably seems pretty funny, especially since my pants were white, so now it looks like I shit my pants. This weekend was going to be better. I was going to do the entire Dix Range, which seemed feasible given my three day weekend.

So late friday I set off with a very full pack for Keene Valley having already spent the previous night outside for work "enrichment". I have the camping thing pretty dialed now so it was no big deal. Pulled into the Round Pond trailhead around five thirty and was able to hike into Round pond just a little after six. I was cooking dinner by moonlight and reading a book by eight with a warm water bottle between my legs and memories of the past floating around in my head. That's right I've been here before. With my last job we hiked to Dix mountain, some kid said he was going to hit me in the face with a log. That was all in the summer but the experience tainted my thoughts on how to proceed.

The plan was simple. Camp at Round Pond on Friday night. Hike to the Boquet Lean-To on Saturday and rest up for the main event on Sunday, that event being climbing all five peaks in the Dix Range. Then hike out Monday morning. Not a small task, but not so difficult as to be impossible. Now if only I had remembered that the hike to the Boquet Lean-To was less than three hours from the trailhead. So when I woke up at six in the morning to go to the lean-o I was there by nine and was not prepared to simply sit around all day doing nothing.

Being the silly map reading fellow I am I decided to bushwack to Nippletop and Dial. No big deal, just get a bearing, and follow it till you can't go any higher. After a few hours of bushwacking I made it to the summit of Dial. The view was lacking, the summit barely distinguishable. So after a quick picture I got to follow a trail to Nippletop. It was pretty much a straight shot north. I figured I could make it in an hour. An hour later I have no idea where I might be except somewhere along this trail. After several false summits I finally came to a clearing where the summit became very obvious. It was a great summit with fantastic views of the Great Range and the Dix Range. It also gave me a nice preview of what I was in for the next day. Despite the erogenous name it was nothing special in it's physique. Most nipples are more fun.

A quick return trip in which my tracks had already been blown over and I almost fell of a cliff I am back at the lean to cooking up dinner, a nice rice and lentil dish with some carrots and potatoes. So I decided to take some fruits and to see how they faired in the sub-zero weather. Orange-not frozen, Apple-sort of frozen, Carrot-not frozen but turned to mush later, Potato-not frozen but turned to mush later. So pretty much carrying around fresh fruits and vegetables in winter works alright although if they thaw they become mushy crap pretty fast. After dinner I did all the usual cleaning up, tossed a hot water bottle down my sleeping bag and went to bed.

Just seven hours later the bladder was full and I was up getting ready to go. Unfortunately, my stove decided to be a pain in the ass and I didn't get moving till after nine. This put me at the base of the slide at a little after ten. On go the crampons, out come the ice tools and away I go. The nice thing about slides is that there are no trees. It gives a real mountain feel to things. Besides that they certainly seem faster and more difficult.

Things were going great. The snow was the perfect styrofoam that you can stand on top of but not sink in. The ice was reasonably soft. Conditions couldn't have been more ideal. That was until I got to the little verglassed rock . After the first swing I knew it was rock. As I tentatively picked around for some thicker ice only to find none. I looked for small edges to hook onto and get a few inches higher, nothing. I stretched and searched for something, anything. So now came a choice. I could move my feet up and see what I could find, thus putting me in a difficult balancing position. On the other hand I could just downclimb the whole thing. I really didn't want to downclimb six hundred feet. So I stepped up and then there was a sliver of snow and ice. Check that it will hold. Now my feet are on the crappy ice that I was trying to pick up. By now though I could actually rely tentatively on my tools to hold me. After his everything was peachy, so to speak.
Then I got to the top of the slide. Let the bushwacking begin. It took a little over an hour for me to reach the trail through the bushwacking. The whole time I was following the small tracks of an animal. Which was interesting because their had been people foot prints on the slide I took.

The summit of Dix was quite good. Views of the Great Range and the rest of the Dix Range were improved greatly by the plentiful sun. Nonetheless it was cold and windy. So after a few pictures I headed on to Hough Peak (It's actually pronounced Huff, not How). Despite their being somewhat of a heard path Hough was pretty tough to get to. Several false summits led to the top of Hough where I realized I would not be able to possibly make it to the rest of the mountains in the Dix Range without getting benighted. Exhausted, and slightly dissapointed, I turned around to repeat the bushwack.

Upon returning to the lean-to I was exhausted, but decided that since it was only four and it was going to be another cold night and I might as well just hike out. No big deal, just pack up the big sack and hike another five miles. Thus making the total daily mileage close to fifteen. Hiking out by moonlight was pleasant though. Winter is unique in it's quiteness. The sounds in my ear were limited to the crunching of snow and my own breathing. That and the occasional sound of branches snapping under the weight of their snow load. This sound was slightly disconcerting, especially being by myself. Either way I was back at the car before nine and lo and behold it decided not to start. Luckily someone stopped after about ten minutes and gave me a jump. Unfortunately, upon returning home the car battery had not gained a charge.
So what do I do? I go home, call all the people who might think I was dead, and then called someone to go ice climbing. All this even though I could barely walk up the stairs. So the next day I woke up and my partner picked me up and off into the mountains we drove once again.

More freezing, more vain arm flailing and feet swinging to stay warm, more dangerous swinging of sharp objects. My partner actually managed to kick himself in the leg with his crampon on accident. After a long day of picking my way up frozen waterfalls I went home to collapse into my exhaustion.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Strained Fingers

I learned something new recently that should take me to a new level in the coming months, if I prepare properly.

My fingers have been killing me. I mean, they've been so sore that they immediately hurt when grabbing a hold on any climb, regardless of grade. I've felt soreness in my fingers before, but this has gone away over time in the past. Unfortunately, this has not been the case recently. This soreness has persisted and has even gotten worse lately. Considering how much I've been climbing lately, a lack of rest certainly hasn't helped. But I'm not stopping any time soon because I want to keep climbing at a three-days-per-week rate until spring when, if "Jello" is still around, I know I can get out just about every weekend. In short, I want to get stronger, but this finger pain persists.

I was telling "Geneva" of my problem and he recognized it immediately. Both he and I love crimpy climbs and, if one does enough of them (or too many of them), one tends to grab holds as if they are crimps, regardless of the hold type. I know that one's fingers can hurt if one continuously climbs crimpy routes, but that isn't the problem. The problem is applying crimp techniques to climbs that don't require the technique. "Geneva" was told that he could combat this finger fatigue by grabbing holds with an open grasp more often and only crimping when absolutely necessary. This does three things: 1) it rests the fingers from having to crimp all the time; 2) it gives the fingers an opposing exercise that strengthen both types of grasps (i.e. - it keeps my fingers from developing crimp muscles only and, thus, keeps my fingers from overcompensating on those crimp muscles because they are stronger even if they are tired) and; 3) it teaches better core technique.

Of course, the first two will correct my finger-fatigue, but it is the last one that may help to propel me to another level. By being able to rest my strongest muscles by not using them I will be able to: a) learn how to get through tough sections without relying on my strength all the time; b) conserve energy by relying on my legs to do most of the work (I'm assuming that legs are more likely to be used with an open grip than with a closed grip) and; c) allow me to be even stronger when I need the strength the most.

If I ever get through this period of weakness then I'll be stronger than I have ever been by this spring. I really hope this is true, because I want to get on harder climbs this summer.

MetroRock Climbing League: Week 1

I wish I could give you an update on the entire rankings, but I can only say that MassClimbers is situated nicely in third place, about 15 points behind the second place team, which, I think must have graded itself in a lower category than it should have. But hey, no one's bitter or anything.

We did manage to get a clarification from the powers that be on the rule controversy I noted in the previous post: climbers can climb and record scores on multiple days, as opposed to having to climb all climbs on one day. They changed the rule the day(s) before the the league started. That's a real bummer, too, because I'm really climbing at only a 5.10 level right now, and I'm sicker than a dog - cough, cough, sneeze. So that means my score will be incredibly low this week, as I'll have to register at 5.11 (thanks to all those who complained, really, thanks).


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Controversy in the Climbing League

Due to the snow storm that never stormed, I didn't get a chance to hit them gym on Monday to see how my team did for the first week of the MetroRock Climbing League. Actually, after reading the rules, I've realized that the scores are posted on Tuesdays. Oh well. In any case, the season has not started without some confusion regarding the handicap and when climbs can be climbed during the week.

The rules do not state how or when an individual's climbs for the week can be climbed other than they must be clean, and by clean - even that is left up to the individual. But the biggest contention surrounds my handicap choice (5.10 - folks seem to think I should be in the 5.11 range) and whether or not all of the climbs in a week have to be done in the same week. I know I'm not making this very clear, so let me lay this out a bit more:
- I chose 5.10 as my group, but folks think I should be at 5.11
- I was told by the owner of the gym that all climbs have to be done in one night, but the rules don't say that
- I feel that I can't do six 5.11s in one night / day, but that may be irrelevant if climbs don't need to be climbed all in one night / day
- If I could have spread them out, I would have chosen 5.11 as my category
- It is unclear whether I will be bumped up (and thus lose points) or if others will lose points because they chose a higher level that they now have to climb all at once (which they weren't planning on doing)

Oh my God! What is to come of this? To be clear, I was not cheating nor being dishonest when choosing 5.10. Honestly, six 5.11s in one night is tough for me. My homerun grade is 5.10c. I can flash any 5.10c in the gym, most 5.10ds, some 5.11as, but rarely a 5.11b. I have to work 5.11a to get it clean most of the time. That, and, my body goes through tremendous swings of strength and energy that doctors still can't explain (no, it's not fibromyalgia or Lyme Disease, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist). I go through these periods when I feel as if I can scale glass, and then other periods when I can barely walk up the stairs without feeling gassed or tired. Right now, I'm in an energy-low period. My muscles are stale, my energy low and my overall, daily body soreness is high. So when I say I can't get six 5.11s in one night, I really mean that six 5.10s are hard right now, too. But even if someone does get 60 points, that doesn't mean anything either. I know two people who really struggled to get 60 points. I'd be lucky to pick up 30, but this has more to do with counting 5.10a the same as 5.10d (which isn't so bad when you think about it, because it ultimately gives a greater advantage to weaker climbers. This is because of the exponential difference between grades as the grades get harder. In other words, a 5.9 climber is more likely to get 15 points for climbing a 5.10 than a 5.11 climber is to get 15 points for climbing 5.12, so that oversight may be fair after all because it strategically gets weaker climbers more involved in climbing and, ultimately better secures their business. And, let's not forget that the grading in the gym within grades varies a bit).

But enough of the sympathy card, I should say that the rules don't say what the expected points per person per week should be. If one climbs six climbs in one's grade, then one gets 60 points (or ten points per climb). What did the creators of this league have in mind when they devised this league? They actually didn't have anything in mind. And let's be fair; they didn't start this league to have the perfect competitive atmosphere. It was probably devised over a drunken poker game when one guy said, "I bet if I put four of my friends together that we'd kick your four friends asses." It was created to have fun, but this hasn't stopped the worry-warts such as myself (and those pointing fingers are me) from openly discussing what could be done better for next year's league. Knowing these guys, I expect them to learn from this and to make it that much better next year.

I should get a clarification, anyway. Let me see if I can get two folks who should be in the know to weigh in. Check back for comments later...

Friday, January 11, 2008

Climbing League - Part One

We've all seen The Big Lebowski and heard of bowling leagues, right? Well, the local gym in my area has started a climbing league, and I joined with three of my friends from my MassClimbers Yahoo climbing group (see the link to the right): "The Mad Russian" (otherwise now known as "TMR"), "Gecko" and "Red Rocks Casino" (otherwise now known as "RRC"). I'll fill in a bit more later on where these names came from, but for now, let's assume we've assembled a pretty bad-ass group of climbers. We may not be the best in the gym, but we can all hold our own on stiff 10s, 11s and easy 12s. That, and, we're pretty edgy, we get agitated with each other often, we all want the attention to be focused on ourselves, and we won't stop talking about that fact (without, of course, not actually saying it - because that would arrogant). Mess with us on an individual level and we'll rip you to shreds. Just imagine what we're like as a team (or to each other as teammates - GULP!).

But before we get into how this bowli...err...climbing league works, let's start off with an inspiring moment in bowling history (courtesy of IMDB):
The Dude: Fuckin' Quintana... that creep can roll, man.
Walter Sobchak: Yeah, but he's a pervert, Dude.
The Dude: Yeah.
Walter Sobchak: No, he's a sex offender. With a record. He served 6 months in Chino for exposing himself to an eight year old.
The Dude: Oh!
Walter Sobchak: When he moved to Hollywood he had to go door to door to tell everyone he was a pederast.
Donny: What's a... pederast, Walter?
Walter Sobchak: Shut the fuck up, Donny.

OK, so the league works based on four components: a grading handicap, weekly scores, total weekly scores over a six-week period and a throw-out of the two weakest weeks that an individual climbs over the course of the league. One gets to climb whenever one wants, decides if a route was climbed cleanly or not and does not have to be judged by anyone. In essence, it's easier than a bowling league. I guess it's more like an honest-driven golf league. Well, I think climbers are less likely to lie about climbing a route cleanly, but that's another debate.

The handicap system works as such: you choose the grade that you most often climb clean. If you choose 5.10 (and there are no differences among the letter grades - so 10d is worth the same as 10a) then you get 10 points for each 5.10 that you climbed cleanly, 5 points for each 5.9, and 15 points for each 5.11. One can add 2 points for leads that are climbed cleanly for each grade, too. Naturally, you can make the same adjustments for folks who are 5.9 climbers (i.e. - for them, a 5.9 climb is worth 10 points). As you may notice, because the letter grades don't factor into the score, harder climbers are penalized because the exponential differences between 5.10 and 5.11 versus the distance between 5.11 and 5.12. But that's OK. It's about having fun and getting everyone involved. And Involved we are.

Now, let's meet the team:
- "The Mad Russian" or "TMR": The very first member of MassClimbers (after I created it, of course) and born in southern Siberia. She's just getting back into climbing after jumping out of a plane and breaking her femur over a year ago. She was a fantastic climber before the injury, and is just getting back into climbing shape now. She has gracefully moved from 5.8s and 5.9s the past couple of months into the solid 5.10 climbing category as of last night. And climbing is just her hobby among hobbies. When she isn't climbing she's skydiving. And when she isn't skydiving, she's jetsetting to stylish parties. And when she isn't's impossible to go on.
- "Gecko": He got this name because we were joking about how he felt his arm was going to fall off after a dynamic move to a steep crimper. We both agreed that all would be OK because he'd just grow another arm (hey, I didn't say all the nicknames were great ones. So long as they stick, I'm OK). Anyway, he's an ex-boulderer who has little or no climbing experience. But hey, who the hell cares about that when you can go from 5.8 to 5.12 in a matter of three months...with a hole in the toe of his right climbing shoe. I should have called him "HGH". Probably too late for that. Just as an FYI - he was climbing 5.12 before he even learned how to lead. I'm not saying that he's stupid, but I think he doesn't realize that his rise isn't supposed to happen. Anyway, he signed up for the 5.11 category.
- "Red Rocks Casino" or "RRC": There's no running away from this nickname. When I was planning my trip to Red Rocks this past autumn I received feedback from several friends on where to stay. Most friends noted cheap hotels and casinos. "RRC" mentioned the Red Rocks Casino. He said it was the closest one can get to Red Rocks Canyon, and it was a nice place to stay. I then looked up the prices: $400 per night was the cheapest room. Yeah, that's my price range. Anyway, he's been in the group for a long time, dating back to when "Tattoo" and "JoJo" were regular members. He took a hiatus for about a year to live in California, but now he's back and climbing in the 5.10 category.
- Greg (no nickname needed, though I'm sure some people have nicknames that they've muttered under their breaths from time to time): I could probably jump into the 5.11 category, but I can't do six 5.11s in one day right now. I can get up probably three, but not six. So I'm in the 5.10 category until they move me up. As it is, I'm struggling on 5.10s lately. I've got a bum knee, a severe lack of sleep slowing me down and a cranky bloating problem. Gravity is not my friend these days.

One other note: what's to keep a 5.11 climber from climbing in the 5.10 category only to get 15 points for climbs he / she should have been climbing for 10 points? Well, nothing, at first. But the keepers of the league will be on the look out for this. If anyone is caught cheating (well, maybe cheating is too strong of a word), then they will be bumped up into the next category.

The league started this week and I think Team MassClimbers got off to a good start. "Gecko" scored six 5.11s, "TMR" scored six 5.10s and "RRC" scored four 5.10s and two 5.11s (I think). My day is on Saturday. I'm not climbing well right now, so we'll see how things go. But hey, it's all about fun right?

Jesus Quintana: You ready to be fucked, man? I see you rolled your way into the semis. Dios mio, man. Liam and me, we're gonna fuck you up.
The Dude: Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.
Jesus Quintana: Let me tell you something, pendejo. You pull any of your crazy shit with us, you flash a piece out on the lanes, I'll take it away from you, stick it up your ass and pull the fucking trigger 'til it goes "click."
The Dude: Jesus.
Jesus Quintana: You said it, man. Nobody fucks with the Jesus.
Walter Sobchak: Eight-year-olds, Dude.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Self-Rescue Day

I've been climbing since the winter of 1998; when two college friends in Edinburgh convinced me to try this wacky sport that used ropes, harnesses and a stable mindset. I didn't have any of the required components, but I forged ahead anyway thinking that maybe this would be a great way to learn something about myself. Certainly, I have learned a lot, but it was this past summer, and more specifically this past fall during a trip to Red Rocks, that I realized there was a lot more that I needed to learn if I was going to get out and do bigger climbs. Thankfully, "Sensei" and "Burrito" were planning on heading out this past Sunday to Quincy Quarry to practice some of this stuff. They asked me to join, and I happily accepted.

Both "Burrito" and I recently had the same revelation about climbing big routes, but we came to the same conclusion from different perspectives. She's certainly a good climber. She's a bit on the vertically challenged and slight side, but I've seen her tactically reach through with ease what would be difficult reaches for me, so she's a pretty good climber. Her fiancee, "Sensei", with his beard, thin frame and years of climbing curiosity built into experience, is almost always the important safety component when they climb together. In other words, they can both climb well, but if something happened, it was he who got them out of trouble. While I don't know the story behind it, there was an apparent moment during a recent, long climb in Arizona that made "Burrito" think that if anything happened to "Sensei" they could both be screwed. I'm not so sure that she wouldn't have figured out what to do, but the point remains the same: that in a party of two climbers, one should not assume that the other will be able to get the party out of a jam. Because in the end, what happens to the party if the knowledgeable climber is the one who is hurt, or, as we'd assume to be even worse, unconscious?

My own revelation came upon my rappel with "Tattoo" off Crimson Chrysalis in Red Rocks, which happened well after sunset and with headlamps that would only shine a few feet away with any clarity. We were both tired and in the dark, and yet, as warned, the rope did not cooperate when we pulled the rope from station to station. Because of the frequency of Chickenheads (rock formations that stick out like tentacles trying to reign in unsuspecting ropes) on that route, it is not uncommon to find one's rope wrapped around an unwanted rock feature or even stuck in a crack. During the day, one is likely able to see where the rope is stuck, diagnose the situation and make changes to the rope-pulling strategy based on what one sees. At night? Forget about it. If the rope is stuck, there's only so much one can do to free it from whatever owns one's life at that given moment.

It was during this descent that made me think, "Crap, if this rope doesn't come unstuck, then what am I going to do?" I would have figured something out, but I would have had only a small arsenal of techniques that I could have used. "Tattoo" had the same arsenal of techniques, but a lesser understanding of those than I had. We could have potentially been stuck on that route hours longer than we actually were, so the same thought crossed my mind differently, "What if something happens to me while I'm trying to free the rope?" The answer ultimately led me to realize that I had put my regular partner, "Jello", in an awkward situation all summer long by relying on his expertise to save the day if something happened to me or us (note: remember when I dropped my belay device off Paralysis at Poke-O? It's a good thing he knew how to belay with a munter).

As I noted above, I eagerly met "Sensei" and "Burrito" at Quincy Quarry to practice ascending a fixed rope (both from the ground and "at the crux", so to speak), become hands-free on rapell when not using a friction knot as a backup (i.e. - prussic), and how to become hands-free when belaying with an ATC. "Burrito" and I did not learn how free ourselves form the belay, but we learned how to let go.

I'm not going to go into actual techniques, but I'll say that we used an Bachman to learn how to ascend, a Legwrap to go hands-free on rappel, and a Munter Mule to go hands-free while on belay. "Sensei" also showed us how to belay using a munter. I'll need practice with the two Munter techniques, but at least I know it's available.

Six doughnuts and a couple of hours later, we zipped out of the beautiful spring-in-January weather knowing a heck of a lot more than we did going in. And it is amazing because the techniques we learned weren't that complicated. Just a little bit of knowledge opened up an entire world of safety in a matter of moments. I feel so much better now than I did before. I hope "Jello" is reading this because he should feel better about my advancement. And he should feel better about the text message I received from "Sensei" later on that evening suggesting that we take it to another level the next time out. I can't wait.