Archive for September, 2010


Sunday, September 26th, 2010

Just returned from a week on the Maine Coast. Our last trip out there was a long, arduous trek to Acadia in a frighteningly overloaded Hyundai Accent; this time it was just Ra & me and way too much gear in the Elantra. All went well, we had a great time. The plan was to do less driving, look for things not so far as Acadia, and see what the state has to offer outside its premier National Park destination.

For water-loving types, it turns out Maine has a lot to offer. The beaches of York are narrow but provide plenty of rolling surf and soft sand for swimming and strolling. Ogunquit’s beach is wider, though it seemed to have a strong undertow while we were there. Of course, the water is colder than it is to the south: while we managed to swim on the one hot day there, it would be a tough place to endure on a cold day. But I’d take it over the overcrowded beaches of NJ any day, and our one stop in New Hampshire’s beaches convinced me that it’s too close to Boston to be less crowded than those beaches.

The shore, like all the east coast, is filled with tourist-oriented shops and inns, or the homes of wealthy folks who can afford the price tag and taxes. Expect to pay a lot to park – the meters clock in at about a dollar an hour – and spend an equally-inflated amount dining. It’s no worse than anywhere else near the ocean, and decidedly more beautiful, cheaper, and less synthesized, than the debacle along the Jersey shore; and considerably less crowded.

For climbers, the options are rather more limited once Acadia is ruled out. And the driving is still extensive. There’s bouldering galore, almost all of it semi-pristine, with few signs of previous passage. I saw a couple dabs of chalk while bouldering near the Nubble Lighthouse, and a death-head’s rusty old bolt by the fort, but nothing else along the shore. We made a desperate drive to Camden and climbed there; this turns out to be worth stopping if you’re passing through, but as the local guidebook states, is not a destination.

Target: 200, Acquired

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Birth of a Dream

By 2007, I gradually entered a time in life where climbing could be a major pursuit. With the help of a small posse of great climbing partners, I shed a decade’s worth of flab, rekindled a passion for exploration, and even improved to a point somewhere near the best of my youth (way back in the early 80’s). I climbed a lot, more than ever before.

The thought crossed my mind that I might be pushing 100 days a year, but I hadn’t kept rigorous track of it all. I had been content to keep track of “big” days, Gunks or High Peaks trips, multipitch leads, FA’s, etc. Since part of holding a guiding license in NY state includes keeping a log of climbing days and routes done, I had a good record of those major days over the past two decades, but had not bothered with “little” days, quick runs for a TR, solo, or short leads. Late in 2008, I looked over the 2007 log, and estimated well over 100 days if everything was included. A brief review of 2008 revealed well over that number. Another thought arose: 200 days might be within reach. I had not kept rigorous track of “little” days during ’08, so I’ll never know for sure if that year crossed the line, but figured I could start 2009 off right and go for it then, keeping good track of climbing days.

By late ’08, health issues interrupted that goal: my shoulder gave out (only indirectly related to climbing). By the end of the year, I couldn’t climb frequently, and by January ’09, could barely stand the pain any real exertion caused it. March came and so did surgery: I was barred from climbing until July.

With the help of an accelerated healing program, excellent work by my surgeon (Dr. Das) and incredible care by physical therapist Amanda Carpenter, I started climbing easy stuff in late June, and was pushing 5.9 again by mid-July. The hiatus took its toll on the goal, however, and by year’s end, I could only count 174 days of climbing total. I certainly could have managed it without that three-month layoff. I would try again in 2010.

What Counts?

By early 2010, I was on-pace to reach 200 days, so long as I stayed healthy and focused. Ice climbing season came to an abrupt end, and with the advent of warm weather, it was time to get out on rock. After a few weeks of early-season, snowshoe-access, “shorty” bouts of climbing, I decided to formalize what could be described as a “real” climbing day.

For the remainder of the year, a climbing day would require a few hours at a gym, preferably with one lead in; a hundred feet or more elevation gain on technical terrain outside, or 5.10+ climbing if less than that. Bouldering days were more hazy: I’m terrible at it; so any objective measure would be hard to come by. I figured any set of lines equaling 5 or more, and counting V0 as 1/2, would be good enough. Since V2 is my limit, and my shoulders don’t like the high stress bouldering places on them, this rather relaxed req seemed good enough.

Revelation 300: Why Not? and Why Not.

Near the end of May, Jason Brechko pointed out that I was close to a 300-day year at my present pace. I tossed it around mentally for awhile, and actually began seriously pursuing it by July. That month would be the test, I decided. I would attempt to climb every single day.

While I had been climbing a lot more purely for reaching 200 days, the pace had to become frantic in order ot manage a 50% increase. Weather would certainly exclude several days, and the lean weeks in November and December would take their toll as well, so I would have to go wild during the summer. I began climbing frenetically, ignoring anything else I could in the effort to make 300.

By end of July, I had climbed every single day – rain or shine. And it showed. I was exhausted, and climbing worse, not better. The sheer act of focusing solely on climbing placed a heavy burden on my family as I shirked chores and duties; the combination of frequent climbing and attempts at hard projects had worn me down and was beginning to hurt the shoulders; and mentally, climbing was becoming a hybrid monster of obsession and “job”. In short, raising the bar on frequency lowered enjoyment of the climbing to the point where it was an addiction, not a passion. With July’s passing, I made the wise choice to drop the bar back down. I could easily manage 200 days, almost certainly obtain 250; but from then on, I began moderating the activity, attempting to keep a fair balance between pushing frequencey and climbing for the joy of it.

Target Acquired!

That didn’t mean I throttled back very much. It was midsummer, after all. With a rest day to herald in August, and a lot of nice weather along the way, the days accumulated steadily. I realized I might even manage my original goal by month’s end, and must confess, that realization spurred me on to climb not only for enjoyment but for reaching the 200-mark. With that incentive, I climbed 26 days that month, crossing the line on the 31st.

More to Come…

September has arrived, and the best climbing days are now upon us. With the original goal reached, I’m trying now to climb with other goals in mind: good times with friends, FA projects, and just enjoying the feel of fingers on stone. I plan to post a listing of every climbing day’s activity at year’s end, and summarize not just what was done, but some of the lessons learned from the pursuit itself.