Archive for March, 2010

Chilly Fingers, Tender Toes

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

So the sun shone, that is excuse enough. Despite the subzero temps overnight and the forecast for them to barely crest over freezing, we went climbing. Emily at the top of Scared for Life

Todd Paris & I had plans to wander out and work on the projects along the South Corner Cliffs for the day. Todd heard that a group from WOLBI was hoping to climb somewhere today, as well. Knowing the pickings were limited at this time of year – one would either have to slog through snow to the Beer Walls, King Philip’s Spring, or most anything else in the High Peaks, or head for Stewart’s Ledge, with its paucity of easy/intermediate routes – we invited them up to the mountain for a day at the Measles Wall and maybe a jaunt out to the Projects along the BAW path.

I started early, and got a few TR’s up before the group arrived, six all told, including Todd. David, the group leader for this trip, is an experienced climber who I had met previously during the first year of the Rocksport Monday Night gig. Another David in the group also had some prior experience, but the rest of the gang was pretty new to the sport. That made things a bit tougher, because two of my TR’s were on stout, 5.8+ and 5.10a routes. Oh well.

We started people on Run for Rabies, the first semi-clean route on the Lower Measles Wall. It begins in a left-facing corner that is capped by a flange of rock 15′ up. The crux is moving from the lower rock onto the “flange” working up the next few steps. Fortunately, everyone was able to figure out a way up this, though for most it required some hand-warming time outs.

Emily Tops out on Scared for Life 

 I went up to place a TR on another nice route at the Upper Measles Wall, so I missed getting a good picture of Andrew on this route. Next time, Andrew!

With the new climbers putting one under their belts, it was time for the experienced ones to take a crack at the harder routes. Group Leader David (hereafter GLD) wanted to try leading something, so we put him at the bottom of H1N1. This turned out to be a good move, as the style of climbing for the Measles Wall is very different than most anyplace else, and it really tells on the sharp end. It’s a good introduction to the necessary “foot-hopping,” balancy moves of the entire Righthand face.

We moved up to the higher wall, where the beginners could work another fine line and those of us hardened to the sport could knock some knees on lead. Yeah, I was one of the jittery set, glancing nervously at the bolt so far below my feet. I opted out of the real crux and, tail between legs, reached over for the familiar finish of Full Moon Fever. Oh well, David, try for that FA another day…

The Other David on the Upper Measles Wall

Todd was itching to get to the Projects, so we gradually filtered up and over to the latest works-in-progress. By the time I got there, GLD was already working the main crack line on TR. He climbed through the lower difficulties well, and even took a shot at the direct finish, a line that will almost certainly press into 5.11 when clean. In its current dirty state, it’s a bit too hard to accomplish, at least for anyone of us today. Emily climbed partway up the standard crack line, and Dave#2 took a few swings at the direct finish before the WOLBI group had to call it a day and head out.

GLD on the project crack

Todd and I remained awhile so he could TR his other project, a series of cracks and flakes toward the left edge of the wall. The sun was dipping behind the mountain as he began, and it grew very cold the moment it did. After working the moves awhile, we both decided it was time to call it a day. We packed, headed out, gathering equipment along the way, and reached our vehicles around 5pm.

Sneaking a Session Ahead of the Relapse

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

I’m in my car almost before the school bell’s echo fades. The sun still shows through a growing veil of frontal-system clouds accumulating from the west, and I’m hoping to make the best of what’s left of dry weather. Traffic is halted on the main road out of Dodge with construction; I force myself to breathe easy and take it all in stride. It works, at least long enough to reach the Northway and head homeward.

One chore to tackle before going home. I toss frequent glances at the growing cloud cover as I complete the task, hustle home. Ugh, gotta change. In, out, maybe another five minutes lost. Up to the trail, still in sneakers. Oh well, there’s very little snow left in the woods at the moment. I plod through one stretch of wet white glop, pull the icy hitchhikers out of the footwear and continue jogging up the path. The sun is no longer shining. There’s a definite chill in the wind, and the clouds are dark and pregnant as I scramble upward. Looks like the Measles Wall or nothing today.

The main face is still a sopping mess, but ah, the Righthand Face is dry, completely. I run around, yank rope and harness from the pack, throw a hasty rappel around a tree and make a dodgy descent leftward to snag the anchors of I Am Lesion. That done, a quick batman back up and then more safely over to the H1N1 hardware. Hanging from a cow’s tail, I pull the rope down, then thread it through the rings. It now runs across most of the face. I tie in to the upper end and rap on the other, pulling a long bight down as I go.

H1N1 goes first, and it’s almost easy now; rehearsal helps so much. Reaching the top, I quickly rap down again. Without changing the rig, I shift down and left to tackle the center line. This is definitely harder, but once again past experience pulls me through and I’m at the top without a fall. Down again, this time I switch tie-in to the other rope end. I Am Lesion is about as hard as its uphill neighbor, though the moves are more familiar. It takes a bit longer to reach the anchors, and by now there’s a definite lack of warmth in the air; no rain yet however. I figure “why not?” and rap again, this time heading as far left as I can go without stepping in muck. This is definitely a tough nut to crack: I spend considerable time standing in tenuous balance on tip-toe holes, struggling to pull slack without falling backward or overflexing a foot. I manage the entire feat without a fall, but I did move quite far right at one point, standing closer to an I Am Lesion bolt than my imagined line. Hard to say if it will go as easily over there.

Down one more time. It still isn’t raining, but fingers are cold and feet are sore: no more, no more. In ten minutes, I’m back home, walking into that wood-heat warmth as the first frosty raindrops begin to fall.

The forecast suggests snow on the ground tomorrow morning, and this time it looks like the weather prognosticators may have it right. March is not giving up without a fight, even as it draws to a close.

Dev on the Mtn and a Gunk Day or Two

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Rock Climbing season is well underway now, hooray!

Last Thursday, I drove down to the Gunks and climbed with Caroline, another EMS guide. We tackled Laurel – now exposed to the sunshine, as the trees above have all tumbled down, Son of Easy O, and Horseman. Caroline got a late call to work, so without a partner for Friday, I headed home.

 Ra & I returned to the Gunks on Saturday, and climbed all of Betty. With a near-fatal accident nearby and quite a crowd, we opted to climb on the cliffs behind the top for awhile, enjoying more sunny weather and a bit more solitude.

The weather predictions have been off quite a lot lately, but in a favorable way: forecasts of lousy conditions that end early or don’t arrive. Sunday was a perfect example. Expecting an inch or two of snow on the ground when we awoke, we found instead cold but mostly sunny weather. By the end of church time, it was nice outside. Ra & I went down to a neighbor’s house and raked the lawn awhile, then headed home. I had time to run up to the Measles Wall and TR all three of the righthand routes. I’m almost ready to take a shot at the center line.

Monday and Tuesday were rainy, but of course Monday was Rocksport night, so I still got some climbing in.

Start Climbing!

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Despite knee-deep snow, I’ve been heading up the mountain, wandering out the east side, over the last two days.

Yesterday, Todd P. and I hoped to FA a short crack in the amphitheatre of the Black Arches Wall. The snow was crusty, solid enough to stay on top of, mostly, all the way. It was gorgeous outside, full sunshine, earnestly deep blue sky; the sort of day when being inside is just criminal, and we felt blessed to escape that particular infraction.

At the BAW, we looked things over. Carpenter & Das was wet at the bottom (as usual; not much wetter than when we FA’d it last year), Recuperation Boulevard was climbable. Adirondack Rehab was possibe, though improbable. E-Stim looked good. Glancing through the screen of trees and bushes, we couldn’t divine the condition of our quarry without getting close. We struggled through deep snow, around scree and bush clumps, and came around the last corner before getting a clear view of the crack. It was dry, dry enough at least, to take a shot at it.

There was only one small problem. As we walked toward the crack, up high on the left, the ragged remains of a huge ice column stood questionably upon a sloping rock pedestal.
Suddenly, that sunshine didn’t look so good.

We eyeballed it awhile, trying to plumb its grip on that streaming perch. Was it going to stay there? It seemed quiescent. Perhaps we could play cat and mouse for an hour or so…

I racked up while Todd placed himself under the protection of an overhanging rock. Once set, I tied in and slid the rope bag down to Todd, then looked at my objective. Thin crack, couple of wide spots, several finger pockets, steep.

To my left, a shower of crushed ice cascaded to the ground, whirling behind my heels, sprinkling over Todd’s haven. Somewhere in the distance, a loud crash heralded a larger collapse. Hmmm.

We didn’t get our FA, at least not a free one. Too nervous to climb well, I aided the crack. Todd refused to go near it, opting instead to head for safety the moment I was off belay. I rapped, pulled gear, threw my stuff and myself willy-nilly away from the drop zone.

We went back along the path, TR’d Todd’s project on the South Corner cliff, then walked farther back, to the Measles Wall. H1N1 was dry enough to have a real go, and no death ice hanging above it. I led it, quite a bit more nervously than last year. It’s a tricky little climb, that. Todd followed, we TR’d the center line project, then headed home. Not a bad day, despite the short bout with sheer terror.

Today, I returned to the Measles Wall, having only a short while to do my thing. I TR’d I Am Lesion for the first time this year; finally it is dry enough for this. I managed it without a fall the first try, fell once getting off the ground, then climbed it clean once more. Not sure I could lead it again, yet.

Plastic to the Rescue

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

Sunday heralded the first complete washout of the year, so there was no chance for climbing that day. The ice is gone here in the southern Adirondacks, and the rock was wet all day Monday, so without a handy plastic refuge, I could not have climbed.

Thank God for Rocksport.
I’m not a rabid gym-rat, but there’s a definite benefit from them, especially for those of us who live in an area where the weather is “inconsistent” – and the Southern Adks fits that description to a tee.

I worked in GF during the day, so stopping by Tom’s place was convenient. I arrived early enough to shoot the breeze with Mr. Rosecrans himself. He and Justin were routesetting, so we chatted for awhile before people began trickling in. It was a quiet night for “my” crowd, Simon C. and Ken P. came. The usual young’uns kept the place lively enough, though they spent most of their time socializing upstairs. Perhaps that has something to do with Springtime…

Friday and yesterday were the first days I’ve concentrated on TR’ing there, and the first thing I noticed was that some of the lines there are really good quality routes. In general, gyms tend to be pretty unimaginative, geared heavily toward height and crimp-strength. A few years ago, I would have said that described Rocksport as well, but Justin, the main routesetter there, has come along impressively in that time. He’s putting up lines that utilize a variety of techniques and body positions without marginalizing short people (like me) or ripping finger tendons. Kudos to him, particularly for that 5.10 line on the south wall.

Simon, Ken, and I spent our time TR’ing lines. Ken has come along quite a bit in the past few weeks; Simon has rocketed upward. It was impressive to watch him climb last night, as he has improved immensely. He managed the hardest TRs of the night, and then led the ceiling very smoothly afterward. That bespeaks a big increase in endurance on his part.

All of us were feeling the effects of the time-change. That spring-ahead thing is great in the long run, but it’s a harsh adjustment the first few days into DST. At least we have an hour more daylight after work now. Hopefully, we’ll soon be using that outdoors.

No worthwhile calls today, so I may head up the mountain. I’ll try to take some pictures and maybe climb a bit if the rock is dry enough.

One Last Go at Pitchoff Right?

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

I had a guided trip in Lake Placid yesterday; a party of 8 scheduled that dwindled to 4 by the time it reached Eastern Mountain Sports, so it turned out to be a pretty easy day. Short, as well. The group was tired from their long work week and came expecting the predicted 50 degree temps; when that didn’t happen (high of 40, dropped to 35 by noon), people got cold.

We had a good time anyway. I set a TR on the long, easy line between the overhangs on Pitchoff Right. I tried to set a TR just right of the rightmost overhang, but rappelling down it, decided the ice was too dicey. I suppose every guide has a “Doh!” moment, and that was mine. I ended up setting another TR on the steep pillar just left of my first line.

The guys worked through the “easy” line, then began attempting the pillar, without much success. Bruce and I both tied on and demonstrated some strength-saving techniques and that seemed to help: one person made the entire pillar, and another doubled his high point – might have made it except he fell and left a tool in the ice, so he had to climb back up single-tool.

Speaking of which, for those of you struggling to improve basic ice climbing skills, that is a great exercise. TR some steep ice and leave one tool behind. It’s likely you will have to utilize some ice holds along the way, an excellent skill in its own right, but you’ll also have to develop precision balance as you stand on your front points, gently wiggle that lonely pick out, then raise it high for another swing. Plan your foot strategy, and expect to make many hop-steps. Finally, if you tend to whack the axes and haul, this will force you to look for stances, rests, and body-scums you would otherwise pass by.

The weather came in bigtime overnight. We woke to 5cm of sodden glop and a slushy mix still falling this morning. Definitely an “off” day for climbing outdoors. March is proving to be a tough month, which comes as no surprise.

As Bruce tore down our rigs yesterday, I played around on the ice at the bottom, and realized something I’ve never felt so strongly in any previous season: I’m going to miss ice climbing. Perverse and ludicrous as the sport may be, this season’s helpings addicted me. I know I’ve already mentioned this, but it’s really quite a transition. There was a time I considered not ice climbing any more. Expensive, dangerous, usually exhausting, often miserable; nevertheless something clicked this season, and I’m almost disappointed to have it end.

Spastics on Plastic

Friday, March 12th, 2010

Ah, March. Glop, slop, and slush. With the threatening weather, I figured real rock would be iffy at best, so since I worked in GF today, I went to Rocksport Gym afterward, met Simon and shortly afterward Bruce M. came along. We spent most of the afternoon working TRs, warming up on easy-moderate stuff, then falling our way up harder lines. It was a good workout. We ended the evening taking turns at leading the ceiling. It was much harder today, partly due to being pretty tired from the TR bout, and partly because it is noticeably more humid now. The holds feel greasier.

In the middle of our session, I got a phone call. Matt, the other Lk. Placid guide, tweaked his knee and couldn’t work tomorrow. A quick inquiry to Bruce and that problem was solved. Hopefully, we’re not getting dumped on for the entire trip. Chapel Pond Canyon still has good ice, so we’ll probably end up in there. No walkarounds there, so looks like I’ll have to lead something…heh, I get to ice climb one more time this season!

I got an email from a friend who went out to the Measles Wall today. They climbed H1N1 and even tried the central route. I guess they had a good time, though they got a late start and made an aborted attempt at getting to the Black Arches Wall. Crackanoon Club strikes again.

So yep, it’s March, that peculiar Twilight Zone of sketching up plastic ice and dicey plastic, and piecing together dry patches of rock. Gotta love it!

The Transition Continues

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Yesterday, I didn’t quite rocket out of school at the end, but I didn’t waste a lot of time, either. Arriving at the Crane Mountain Trailhead at 3:15p, I grabbed my pre-packed gear, threw off dress clothes, slapped on outdoor duffs and snowshoes, and motored to the Measles Wall. My shovel work of the previous afternoon had minimal payback: I Am Lesion was still completely soaked, but H1N1 while not dry was close enough to top-rope. Didn’t hurt that I used real climbing shoes this time ’round. It was a fun return to Crane Mountain rock climbing.

There was a dry swathe of rock left of the as-yet unclimbed center route, so I shifted the belay over to it and spent the rest of my two-hour stint there falling up that line. It’s schtinkin’ hard. I managed to get every move, but one or two of them are reallll marginal, and linking them all together will be very challenging. Of course, once the rock to the right dries off, things get a lot easier, basically hugging close to H1N1 and using many of the same holds. But that left variation will always be there for those wanting stiffer ascents.

While I climbed, I heard occasional crashes of ice falling off the Upper Measles Wall. There wasn’t a lot of that left to fall down, by now I suspect it’s all gone. I didn’t go over to check Wedding Cake, but it probably could still be climbed. Not that it would be fun: the steep faces are probably not safe, and the low-angle tiers would be snow-slogs.

I’ve been ice climbing for something like 20 years now, but until the last three or so, I never really considered it “my” sport. It was just something I did to bridge the gap between climbing seasons – rock climbing seasons, that is. That has changed: for the first time, I’m sad to see the season end. It is ending earlier than usual, and in all likelihood rock climbing will be sparse for another month. Moreover, I had a bunch of projects I was itching to tackle this year, many of which I couldn’t make happen. These all play a part in wanting the season to last a bit longer. No doubt the sun will shine, the cliffs will warm up, and I’ll soon be ecstatically pitching myself upward on rock, but for awhile, I am going to miss ice climbing.

Last Call for Waterfall Wall

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Waterfall Wall First PitchI went out today to check conditions at Crane Mountain’s Waterfall Wall. Gorgeous day, just what the ice can’t handle. The ice was decent for most of the first pitch, but the last 40′ or so was split by open water on rock, and the tongues of ice remaining were falling apart. I ended up tooling up the tangle of downed trees on the left. Second and third pitches were fine, though mostly just snow. The upper pitches looked bad; I didn’t bother heading up to them.

Self-Portrait on the Waterfall Wall

In the afternoon, I ran up to the Measles Wall to check rock conditions there. The Righthand Wall was dribbling wet, a function of snowmelt on the slab above. I decided to attempt a solution to that problem, wallowed around to the top, dropped a rope, and rappelled avec shovel in hand. In a half hour or so, I cleared the lion’s share of white stuff away. My work made a sopping mess of the face below, so a quick attempt at climbing H1N1 was a miserable failure, but hopefully tomorrow will be different. I’ll try doing it in real climbing shoes next time: the Mad Rock Mountaineers edge great, but they don’t smear well on wet rock!

Time to Rock (Climb, that is)

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

First Rock Climbing of the Year: Sunday, March 7th, 2010! 

Yesterday afternoon, Ra and I drove out to Lake Pleasant to hit the quarry wall. It’s a long drive, but we figured it would be the only rock a short distance from the road that might be dry. It was good enough. I dragged a ton of gear in, and we commenced climbing. Or preparing to – there is a lot of snow cover, so I had to shovel the bottom holds before we could begin. Rope bags and tarps are wonderful things for this time of year; enabling a dry, if somewhat tricky, footwear switch.I climbed up the easy route that lies farthest left on the wall. The winter hasn’t been good to this route: there is more loose rock and it looks as if the entire cliff to its left is an unconsolidated pile. This is the easiest route here, other than perhaps the 15′ line at the opposite end, so I hope it can be cleaned up safely. At the anchors, I clipped through and traversed right to the next set, ran the rope through those and lowered off, halting near the bottom and making a tenuous traverse back left to switch footwear again.

It was Ra’s turn, and she scampered up the leftmost line quickly.

The sun had already dipped behind the cliff, and the rock grew cold quickly. After TR’ing the line to the right, I pulled the rope and we called it a day for climbing. We packed the gear and took it back to the car.

We did take a snowshoe walk through the woods in the area before heading back home, passing a lot of deer sign along the way, and enjoying the afternoon sunshine before heading homeward.