Thursday, February 28, 2008

MetroRock Climbing League: WINNERS ANNOUNCED!!!!

You heard it here, folks, finishing in second place in the first ever MetroRock Climbing League is none other than your hometown climbing team: MASSCLIMBERS!!! WHOOP!

I saw the announcement in the MetroRock newsletter:

New Adult Climbing League
Session2 starts starting March 10th and ending April 20th

Welcome to the MetroRock Adult Climbing League session II. This informal, casual league is a great way to add a little spice to your climbing, meet new people, overcome new challenges, improve your climbing and most of all have some fun! It is specifically designed for climbers of ALL abilities, so whether you've never tied into a rope before or are the next Chris Sharma come join and see what it's all about.

League session - is six weeks; starting Monday, March 10th and ending Sunday, April 20th

Challenge yourself to earn points each week. The harder you climb, the bigger your score - top teams win CASH!


Detailed rules and requirements click HERE!

But what's even funnier is the ensuing conversation that went on after the announcement:

From Greg: So, uh, check out the bottom of the third story down!!!! WOOHOO!!!
From Gecko: HOLY GEBUS!!!!! We got 2nd place!!!??? MassClimbers RULES!!!! WOOHOO!!!!!! !!!!!
From Gammie: Congrats. I'm a little more interested in the sleep over thing mentioned at the bottom. Could be interesting ....
From Greg: Yeah, but I'd probably want drunken naked climbing or something. So I imagine I'm not invited.
From Gammie Brings new meaning to crack climbing. I definitely wouldn't want to belay a guy climbing the chimney. :)
From Greg: *ROLLING*

I'm sure I'm not the only one rolling right now. TMR has consistently requested that we not chat on the group so she doesn't have to recieve the e-mails. Well, whatever, we're boys (except for her) and we're having fun.

To quote "Gecko" again: MassClimbers RULES!!!

Friday, February 22, 2008


One shamed into living a causeless life; a masterless samurai.

OK, so it isn't climbing, but where else are you going to get a car-chase scene that rivals The French Connection and a bullet through Katarina Witt's heart?

Sometimes I wonder about my own life and my cause. It's not uncommon, but neither is my daily routine. I get up, go to work, do my job and I feel as if I've accomplished something at the end of the day. Yet, all I really want to do is find the master that I've been seeking to serve. I often find that while climbing, I am at peace with not having found the worn path toward conformity. But then I realize that, while it isn't suicidal, I sometime climb not to find the inner strength to carry me beyond my everyday fears, but because I'd be perfectly fine severing ties with my life and just walking away. Student loans? Expectations? Obligations? I'm doing as well as anyone could have imagined, and it's all so empty. Courage is a funny thing behind a computer screen. Living life through an alarm clock, though comfortable, is not as easy as it seems.

Anyone want to take a chance on a guy who just wants to go out and hope to do good by living life? Faith, it turns out, is every bit a master as patience is.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Aid, AIARE, Avalanches, Oh My!

So I've been pretty productive as of late. I took a group up a mountain, I learned to rope solo. I practiced aid climbing. I took and AIARE avalanche course, and I almost got crushed with several hundred tons of ice and snow at the bottom of Mt. Pok-O-Moonshine. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of pictures. Cry me a river.

About three weeks ago I was visited at work by a group of high school juniors from Connecticut. It was awesome to finally get a group of students who I was actually interacting with instead of just babysitting. Unfortunately, they were boarding school jocks and fit the stereotype perfectly. Either way I got to go climb a mountain. So after trying to get people to get it together we were finally in the van and driving. We get there and the weather is alright. It's sunny and clear but still fairly cold. The peak we were headed for, Wright, is notoriously exposed and windy. So after teaching everyone how to put on their snowshoes we got moving. Keeping people comfortable in winter is difficult. Often people wear too little or too much clothing so either way they are freezing. The fact that in a group of eight their are slow hikers and fast hikers makes this even more difficult. When the fast group would stop they'd start getting cold and so when the slower hikers caught up we really couldn't stop for them to catch their breath and none of them wanted to lead. Nevertheless we made it all the way to the top and it was fantastic. Being above treeline gave us the sun and so we were warm and comfortable and amazingly the wind was absent. This is the first time I've been on top of a mountain without wind.

The weekend after the group left I got to go to my AIARE avalanche course. I got to learn that snow is in flakes until it hits the ground and then it's grains. Kind of like people in agriculture feel the need to differentiate between dirt and soil. Anyways we met near Burlington, VT to do a quick intro of the materials. Me and another person asked if anyone knew where we could sleep without being bothered. He was in his car and I was in my bivvy sack. Poverty, does a body good. Surprisingly nobody offered a room, or a floor, or a couch. I guess we looked fairly unseemly. So I ended up sleeping on a snow bank behind a grocery store. I found out around midnight that I was about thirty feet from some train tracks as the train rumbled by and scared me out of my cluastrophobic sack. The next day was more class work and we learned how to use avalanche transcievers. That night I slept up on a mountain because that is where we were meeting the next day. Luckily their were no trains there. So that next day we dug some pits, looked at some snow, and I made plans to climb ice with the other vagrant.

So I met that vagrant in Wilmington Notch and we proceeded to climb Multiplication Gully, a two pitch WI3. It was probably the coldest it has been all winter and so when my new cohort said he couldn't feel his toes afterwards I was slightly worried he'd be losing some toes. He was alright though. Besides that I lead my first ice climb! Nothing I wouldn't be comfortable soloing, but it was an important landmark. The next climb we did was the three pitch WI3 Chouinard's Gully, another classic. This time we simul-climbed (climbed at the same time). So a climb that would have taken at least two hours pitched out, took less than forty five minutes. From now on, when there's moderate climbing, I'm simul-climbing. Either way I was happy to have done my first real leads on ice. Now I just need some ice screws of my own.

Fast forward one more week. I'm not an aid climber. In fact I don't think I will ever be enclined to aid climb except for reasons of safety or because it's too cold to free climb. So when the mercury was teetering around five degrees I decided to try some new things. One was aid climbing which I had never seriously persued and rope soloing which I had never really entertained because it requires a lot of work. So there are a few ways it can work. You can either use a rope soloing device. Those cost a couple hundred bucks. You can also use a few knots, either a clove hitch or friction knots. Since I'm cheap I used a clove hith. The one thing that bothers me is how to keep the connecting carabiner from cross-loading. Anyways, most people work into this sort of thing slowly, they learn from other people, they read books, take classes, and are careful. I decided to just go for it. So I walked up to the climb, built an anchor at the bottom and started aiding my way up. Things were going pretty well until I got near the top. Since the climb ends at a ledge there was plenty of snow which hindered my progress as the crack I was using filled with ice and snow.

At my topmost point I was slightly below a small red hex. I was trying to get into another crack system which had less ice and snow. As I stretched to clip the piece I had place I suddenly had the feeling of floating and then quickly stopping. I had fallen. I had bounce tested the hex but it had been in my head that I was pulling it in a bad direction, so that's a good reason to listen to your intuitions. So that was my first fall on gear and it held. I only fell about ten feet but even so I decided not to go back up to tempt fate again, because if that piece popped it meant I was on the ground. Unfortunately, this meant I was leaving two stoppers and a draw.

Today I decided to head back and get me gear. No big deal, just climb the ledge system to the left, rap down, retrieve gear, then ascend the line and walk back down. Now it's been unseasonably warm around the Adirondacks recently which means snow and ice are melting and falling. When I pulled up to the cliff I sort of noticed the verglassed rock above where I was going to be. Since a huge ice line was to my left I was more worried about that. As I hiked at the base of the cliff I noticed the tinkling of falling ice. Since it was just small shards I didn't think much of it. It was kind of neat to see the falling, glittering pieces. Then I heard a crack and a swoosh. Looking up I saw I was about to be bombarded by ice ranging in size from baseball to basketball size. Baseball size pieces can crack limbs and knock one unconcious. I quickly ducked behind a tree. I took a few dingers on the helmet and backpack and painful one in the arm but no permanent damage. Being about thirty feet from my intended spot I made a beeline for it. That spot being a small cave. About ten feet from that spot I hear the same stomach churning crack much louder and pronounced. I don't even look up, I just run for the little cave as pieces of ice start to thud on the ground around me. As I dive into the cave and turn I see tons of snow and ice crashing onto the ground, some pieces as large as a dresser. After poking my head out cautiously I decided no more ice was going to fall and quickly headed up the ledge to retrieve my gear while the adrenaline was still pumping. All I could say as I came out of the cave was holy shit.

Overall, it's been an enlightening week and a dangerous one. I'm gonna start watching my back more often before I get myself into trouble.

Monday, February 18, 2008


I've been waiting for years to be able to add Yosemite to my labels list (to the right ->). Well, I think I'm finally getting my chance to actually go to the climber's Mecca; a place where all climbers should make the effort to pilgrimage to at least once in a lifetime.

I don't need to say what Yosemite means in the history of climbing. If I had to guess, I'd say Hillary and Norgay's ascent of Everest as the top climbing achievement in history. From there, I'd have to say the opening up of the big walls in Yosemite as just as important in terms of developing the sport. Certainly, the climbing in Yosemite is rock, and that is different from mountaineering. The two have grown in separate directions under the same auspices of "climbing", but without the early years in Yosemite, rock climbing would not nearly be as popular is it today. Not only are the climbs legendary, but so is the modern-day equipment that was developed as a result. Even mountaineering has developed as a result of the mechanical progress made on El Cap and Half Dome.

On top of that is the history of climbing ethics, as well. Certainly grade difficulty and specific routes were at the forefront of achievement, but so was style. In fact, one can probably trace the disgust of the scenes of trash on the slopes of Everest directly to the environmental devotions of John Muir and the pursuit of "leave no trace" ethics championed by Royal Robbins and Yvon Chouinard (a good Mainer), even before "leave no trace" entered our lexicon. Of course, John Muir was the driving force behind establishing Yosemite and Yellowstone (among other parks) as the first national parks on the planet. Robbins and Chouinard were the major forces behind boltless climbing. Their efforts were momumental then, but are so commonplace today that they are simply accepted as existing. Sure, there are still heated debates over bolting and leaving gear behind, but the branded buckets that folks sit in were defined decades ago in The Valley.

Anyway, so what does all this mean? Well, it means I'm going to have to come up with three new nicknames for the folks I'm travelling out there with: Ratherbe, Orangekayak, and Elron (who already lives in Tahoe). And it means I'm going to have to get ready to climb something big, tall and, hopefully, really freaking scary. God I can't wait!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

MetroRock Climbing League: Weeks 5 and 6 and Suggestions Going Forward

Well, after a couple of weeks without updates, Team MassClimbers learned it's fate today: solidly in fourth place but within spitting distance of third place. With a grand week in week six by us and a weak week by the third place team, we could have overcome them and finished one spot out of the money. Second was out of the question and, happily, fifth was also out reach.

But we know how its all going to finish. We're finishing in fourth because not all of our teammates got 100% of their climbs in this week. So a stellar week was not had. But that's OK, we're glad that its over and we can have fun for once.

A few critiques:
- Midgrades (a, b, c, and d) were not counted; so a 5.10d was worth the same as a 5.10a. This meant that I had to spend my past six weeks ensuring that I got my six 5.11s in. This also meant that I couldn't work on improving my leading in a grade that I was comfortable with. The next league, which I won't participate in because it happens in the spring when I'll be outside, will count these midgrades somehow. This will be, I believe, the single biggest improvement to the league.
- No idea what an acceptable score should be. This means that if I set my standards at getting 60 points each week, that meant I would rarely earn more than 60 points (because 5.11a/b is really my limit and 5.12 is too far out of reach). But if I had set my score to be 75 points then I would have called myself a 5.10 climber and climbed only three 5.11s each week just to get the bonus points. But I chose 60 points, not 75. Now, how many climbers like me also chose 60? That's the point. No one knew where they stood. I believe the next league will also take this into consideration. I guess it is just important to not give beneift to those folks who are at the cusp of a particular grade (i.e. - a 5.10c climber would get far more points than a 5.11a climber because that 5.10c climber would get a few 5.11s in, while the 5.11a would almost never expect to get a 5.12 in). By setting a standard, everyone would know where they stand and what to expect.
- The league supposedly ended on a Thursday when all other weeks leading up to the final week ended on a Sunday. This unfairly affected those people who went on vacation during one of the first five weeks, because they then had a short week to get all their climbs in. I'm not sure if this will be taken into consideration the next time around. I know this affected me because I have been counting on getting my hardest climbs done on Saturday when I have the most rest. I'm not sure if my Saturday's climbs will count (I think they will be because the staff has been very good at communicating that this league was a work-i- progress), but if they don't then I can say that it is my fault for not reading the rules properly.
- One other thought I had after my original post (this bullet is an addition to the first post): some folks thought the league was too long (I haven't decided if I'm one of them yet). I'm not sure if that is because everyone was trying to get at least the minimum and trying to get the same six climbs each week, thus making the experience stale at the end. It may be that adding the mid-grades to the scoring mix will help make it more interesting and less repetitive, but I also think more emphasis needs to be placed on regularly changing routes across the grade spectrum. This will keep folks from doing the same routes for all six weeks (two or three in a row is OK) and may make the league, thus, seem less long. But I say this thinking that the route setting probably needs to be even more proactive during the league than it normally is to alleviate this feeling of it being too long.

Some good things that I've heard:
- Obviously utilizing the midgrades is a great idea.
- Possibly increasing points for leads is a great idea, too, but I hope they don't give a lot of points for leading. Four points would seem reasonable. Not everyone can lead, and one wouldn't want to exclude those folks.
- Capping the total points anyone can earn in any given week. This is a great idea because it keeps people from deliberately moving themselves into a lower grade just to get the bonus points for climbing harder (even though they should be climbing hard to begin with). However, people are still going to manipulate the system so that they shoot for the max each week. My suggestion here is that anyone who earns the top score more than the average top-score earners gets bumped up to the next category automatically and retroactively. In other words, if someone gets the top score four times, and, on average, people in the league get the top score only two times, then that person who earned the top score more than twice gets penalized for "cheating". This is a good system because people won't know what the average is until the league ends. This would essentially eliminate the opportunities for those who are trying to "time the market," so to speak.
- Offer more than cash for the top two teams. If there's nothing to compete for, then there's nothing to compete for. I don't know what to do, but maybe offer the third and fourth place teams their money back. Just a suggestion off the top of my head. Probably not a particularly good one.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to getting back to my routine: working grades that I'm comfortable with so that I can go into the outdoor season with a level of confidence on specific grades. From this time forward, it's all about not getting hurt and getting ready for outside. Whereever I am grade-wise is whereever I am. Go climb a rock!

Monday, February 11, 2008

MetroRock Climbing League: Week 4

Sorry folks, but there is nothing to report because the scores haven't been updated in about two weeks. Hopefully we've moved up with "TMR"'s mad dash into the 5.11s for the first time in a couple of years, but there's no way to say for sure. In any case, I'll be glad when it's over. I'm itching to start having fun again. I need to train, and not compete. Oh well, must be my pushover nature.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Metrorock Climbing League: Week 3

Well, as I sit here in the disparity of watching the Pats blow the chance at a perfect season, I can say that the difference between the MassClimbers climbing team and the leaders is 280 points; one great week's worth of climbing, and I'm not that worried about that gap.

You see, the season is six weeks long and, because folks go on vacation and the organizers of the league understand this, only the top four weeks count. We are only in week three at the moment, so all weeks count at this point. Once we get past week four, our lowest point total will get dropped. And it is for certain that our lowest week total has already been achieved: week two when both "Gecko" and "TMR" went away and didn't get any points (I was also sick and scored less than 60 points, which, by the way, is probably the standard point total for a team in any given week).

I'm not that worried about it because "Gecko" and "TMR" have each been pushing the envelope with "Gecko" leading most 5.11s in order to get the bonus points for leadings, and "TMR" is just starting to get back on to 5.11, thus getting her the bonus points for climbing about her division (5.10). I'm still chugging along at the standard 60 points because I won't be climbing a 5.12 clean any time soon nor will I be getting any 5.11s on lead anytime soon either. I'm not sure how "RRC" has been doing because he doesn't climb the same nights that we do, but that's OK. I know he's climbing and I know he's getting us some points.

Now, being 280 points behind is tough. I mean, we get 250-260 on a regular basis (due to "Gecko"'s and "TMR"'s bonus points), so 280 is doable if we all have a stellar week at some point. Also, if any of the leading group's members go on vacation (school vacation is coming up), then they will lose points that way. However, if they don't go on vacation, then they can continue to search for their highest four-week total. Either way, we have work to do. I guess I need to step up and get some more points in the coming weeks and hope that we can close the gap slowly over time.

Of course, gaining on the top team means nothing if the five teams in between us and the leaders don't falter either. Gulp!