Thursday, October 20, 2016

Syked again

With last Wednesday's Carderock trip showing me that I can do slab/vertical routes with little pain, I made some sensible toprope plans on Saturday to catch a bit of the gorgeous Fall weather we're having.  When those plans fell through, I figured maybe my equally damaged friend John Brunson would want to meet at Gretna for a tour of the finest easy boulders in the new guidebook.  As it turned out, he was feeling uncharacteristically whole, and had his sights set on Guillotine at the Jam Boulder in Sykesville, which he had narrowly missed finishing last year.

Nothing on the Jam Boulder seemed like a good idea for me yet, but I hadn't climbed in that part of Sykesville in probably two years, and any day with John is a good one.  With the also sidelined Mike Bowman on paparazzi duty, we were all set.

Seeing the telltale flash of pads through the remaining green of the woods, we realized that we would have company at the Jam Boulder, and turned the corner to find Sean and David already working Guillotine.

John never managed the send, but he came really close.

The only thing more impressive than the arms-flailing mini-fit he threw was the fact that he got that close to finishing, and still resisted the urge to give that "one more try" that brings climbing seasons to an end before they've even started.

Wanting to keep climbing, or start in my case, John took us over to the Gorsuch Switch boulders, which Mike and I had still never seen.  Among other established climbs, Gorsuch is home to Smitty's outstanding Riot Time, an overhung arete/compression line with perfect slopers and a landing area that makes you think twice.  I didn't think it would be a possibility for me, but as we warmed up with a bunch of variations on one of the lower boulders, I realized that my back was loosening up enough that I might be able to at least try Riot Time.

I spotted John as he gave it a couple tries and worked out his Big Man Beta, somehow not ripping the boulder down on top of him in the process.  While he was resting, I shoed up and gave it a go, hitting one of the slopers a little too low and peeling off.  After feeling out a couple alternate possibilities, I pulled back on for a static send, and then a fully rested John threw his shoes back on and crushed it.

Here's some video of John's send, with his Guillotine wobbler and a few Catoctin boulders added in for good measure.

I was a little stiffer the next morning than I'd been in a few days, but I'll take it.  Between getting on new rock, doing things that I hadn't thought I was ready for, and watching John throw away self doubt and commit to a scary move, it was a damn good day.  Fingers crossed that healing and weather will continue to coincide for more!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

White Rocks bouldering

As I wait for my back to return to full functionality, I've been looking through old photos and realizing that there were a bunch of fun climbing days I never posted about.  Maybe I thought they were too ordinary to mention, or maybe there was something else I was waiting to go back and do before writing a more complete post.  More realistically, another obsession had grabbed hold of my time, and I was spending every non-climbing moment doing math.

In May, a few of us went out to Frederick for a day of bouldering at the White Rocks section of Sugarloaf Mountain.  Despite being blown away by how good some of the boulders were when Jon Alexander took me there three years earlier, I had somehow never made it back in the meantime. Fortunately John McCauley had been busy putting up lines all around the area, and had plenty to show us.  Glad someone had the sense to make the most of the place!

We actually started our day warming up over at Mt Ephraim, since I wanted to show Charlie some of the stuff there that he'd never been out to.  We didn't get on Awakening or anything in the main section, but we did put down a fun little crimp face that my fingers were too numb for the last time around.

Walking around the main part of Mt Ephraim, I also took a look at a couple things that I can't wait to get back and try this year.  Watchtower in particular looks so good!

Eventually crossing back over the road and taking the trail up to White Rocks, the day took a predictable turn... everyone else played on the cool roof features, and I got obsessed with a slab traverse.  At least I got it this time around, after splitting my fingertip open right after figuring out the beta last time.  Sit-starting on the far right of the boulder that has Crimp Life running up the middle, the traverse follows good right sidepulls into a thin left crimp, then straight up a couple moves before (for me anyway) locking an undercling with the right thumb and firing out left for a good enough crimp to finish from.  A little silly with a big arete within reach the whole time, but such are the games we play.

Meanwhile, everyone else was on the actual cool boulders, and Charlie of course was going on a sending spree.  Especially fun to watch was him cruising (I think flashing?) John's His and Her Firearms on the big boulder that Dan had cleaned off years ago and never gotten back to.  Traversing a sloper rail to the arete and then a long slab topout, all over big pointy rocks, it's one of the more exciting things out there.  The right side also looked fun, starting on the same rail, but making a big move into a good crack to top out around the corner.

When Catoctin was re-opened to bouldering this summer and I was telling people how I hadn't really missed it with so many other things in Maryland to climb, a few people wondered how much there could really be.  I think the fact that I have a place like this within an hour drive and it took me three years to get back says it all.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Old Rag throwback

It's been a while since I've done much serious climbing, most recently because I came off of a week of being sick just in time to hurt my back at the New.  I'd like to say I did it fighting through the crux of some 5.Ridiculous route, but it actually happened while warming up on the first morning of our trip. More specifically, stepping from one rock to another while walking away from our first warmup boulder, and I think trying to simultaneously duck a tree branch and not drag my foot through poison ivy, when everything in my lower back fired and reduced me to spectating for the rest of the weekend.  At least I didn't get poison ivy.

The past couple weeks have been a lot of hangboarding, and I can somehow still run 7-8 miles without any trouble, plus I can finally sit in the car for reasonable lengths of time without completely stiffening up.  And I actually was able to make it out for a session at Carderock yesterday.  Not the hardest climbing I've ever done, but just being out there in this gorgeous weather was nice enough.

But getting back to why I started typing in the first place...

I somehow never posted about it, but I finally made it down to climb at Old Rag back in August!  Not just walking up the trail or bouldering at the base, but actually dragging our gear up for some routes.

First off, the views alone were worth it!

We spent most of our time around the Sunset Walls, with a little detour as Chris attempted to locate a few routes he'd spied on a previous walk around.  Even that was fun, with scrambling across pits and through caves that was every bit as physical as some of the routes we did, with equally good scenery along the way.

My favorite routes of the day were at Middle Sunset.  We all started off on Frigid Air, with great stances all the way up the dihedral and plenty of big gear.  Even better was Dark Side of the Moon, the slightly more delicate slab face to the right.  Just my style!

                                                    Chris Irwin on Frigid Air
I also appreciated Peter's precision slinging technique on another corner we found ourselves in...

                                                                              Peter Jensen on The Arborist
After hearing about it for so long, I was glad that Old Rag didn't disappoint.  Between all of the routes I want to go back for now that it's cooled a bit, and the boulders we saw on the approach, I can hear that beautiful granite calling me.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Endurance Recovery Mix from Skratch Labs

When I first heard that Skratch Labs was considering adding recovery drinks to their product lineup, I'll admit I was a little skeptical.  With sixty pages of delicious recovery meal recipes already available in their Feed Zone cookbook, I wasn't sure why they would risk moving into a drink category that had always tasted pretty bad in my experience.  It turns out that they had spent years asking themselves the same question, with founder Allen Lim championing the idea that fresh real food was always the best option.  Unfortunately, post-workout cooking isn't always a possibility for those of us who aren't full time athletes with support crews, and Skratch Labs decided they needed to give the athletes they supported a quick and easy option made with the same care and simplicity as the hydration mixes they have become known for.

Just to clarify, these are not protein shakes.  They're designed not as a magic post-lifting potion to aid our quest for 24-inch biceps, but (as Exercise Recovery Mix implies) as a recovery drink specifically formulated for the recovery needs of endurance athletes.  With a 5:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio, the focus is on using simple sugars to restore our muscles' glycogen stores.  While the milk proteins do help with muscle building, they are primarily added based on research that shows carbohydrate/protein mixes to more efficiently restore glycogen than carbohydrates alone.  The mix also contains a sodium level similar to the Exercise Hydration Mixes to aid in post-workout rehydration.  As with other Skratch Labs products, they contain only a few simple ingredients, with no artificial colorings or preservatives, and are naturally flavored with chocolate, vanilla, or coffee.

Now, a disclaimer...  I'm not an endurance athlete.  I'm a climber who gets sucked into running a few times a week because it lets me see more of the woods in the little time that I have available.  But with climbing workouts that can go for hours, and even some of my relaxing runs burning well over a thousand calories, it's a safe bet I'll be keeping some of this stuff on hand.

I tasted all three flavors after my workouts this past week and enjoyed them all.  The chocolate and vanilla were the most similar to other recovery products I've had, but without the nasty artificial aftertaste.  Good flavors in both, and the chocolate especially felt like I was just drinking a thin chocolate milk (which I basically was).  The coffee was hands down my favorite though.  All the joy of a cold creamy iced coffee that I want in the afternoon before going off to teach again, without worrying about what the coffee acids will actually do to my stomach that soon after a workout.  All three flavors were sweet without being overpowering, and I was surprised that none of them seemed at all salty considering the sodium concentrations.

The only other consideration for me was that, although I always preferred milk-based proteins back when I used to go through a lot of protein drinks, the smell was always a little strange to me.  I find that drinking out of a glass instead of sticking my nose in a bottle helps with this, but this does make the preparation a little harder.  In a bottle, the powder blends easily into the water with just a few good shakes.  In a glass, it floats on top and clumps no matter how hard I stir.  Bond references aside, this is probably why the official Skratch Labs directions specifically say to shake not stir.  For those of you non-conformists who want to be like me and enjoy your Exercise Recovery Mix in a glass, it's actually easy enough if you stir in just a small amount of water first to make a paste, and then continue stirring as you add the rest of the water.

So there you have it.  Go get your hands on some!

*All photos courtesy of Skratch Labs.  For more detailed information about the science behind Exercise Recovery Mix, check out the detailed article on Skratch Labs' website (link here)

Monday, October 3, 2016

Caffeine to go

Most mornings start with a good cup of coffee for me.  Not that I'm too picky about my coffee though. Although I can't get enough of the stuff my mother-in-law brings home from Vietnam, and frequently pick up the blends used in my favorite coffee stouts when I visit breweries, most of the time I'm content with store brand grinds.  It's not about what I drink, but about the comfort of starting my day in a way that reminds me I'm home.  On mornings like this one, that means my favorite stoneware mug, and a French press that I've started the water for as soon as I stumble down the stairs.

Traveling complicates things though, and the ability to impose my usual morning order onto the day can provide a needed reset after even the least restful of nights.  Easy enough to deal with on most vacations maybe, but climbers have a habit of waking up in places where our options are limited to what we bring in ourselves, and having drinks that travel well without sacrificing taste can make all the difference.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to chat with Ryan Schueler, one of the creative minds behind JavaZen. Started by three friends who bonded over the joys of caffeine at University of Maryland, they resolved their ongoing debate over the merits of coffee and tea by blending them together with other natural flavorings to create drinks that bring out the best of both.  Currently offering their blends in 9 ounce bags, JavaZen is also perfecting their single serving compostable brew bags, ideal for space-conscious travelers who only need to carry a serving or two along.

Of the flavors that I tried, Balance was my favorite.  The matcha flavor was there, but light enough that I still felt like I was drinking coffee.  What I really liked though was the strong taste of the cocoa nibs balanced by the light spice of the cinnamon.  The Boost blend was an interesting concept, especially considering the amount of yerba mate we go through in my house, though admittedly it was a little strong for my tastes.  The new Pumpkin Spice blend was fantastic though, adding tulsi tea, lucuma, and turmeric to the cinnamon, ginger, and cloves that find their way into everything this time of year.  While I didn't get to try to Relax blend, I love drinking rooibos, and am intrigued by the thought of mixing it into decaf coffee.

Prefer your coffee straight?  Don't worry, Alpine Start has you covered.  Climber owned and operated, Alpine Start takes a minimalist approach with single serving packets that weigh next to nothing and are thin enough to use as bookmarks, all while challenging the idea that instant coffee can't be as good as the real thing.  That's right, it's instant.

Alpine Start co-founder Matt Segal gave me a few samples when he was in town recently, and I'm hooked.   Rather than the reddish crystally stuff that I associate with instant coffees, the packets opened easily to reveal a fine dark powder that looked more like fresh espresso grinds, which dissolved almost instantly in hot water.  While the result did feel a little thinner than regular coffee, the flavor was rich and smooth, without the acidic bite I've tasted in other brands.  Had I not made it myself, I'd have never known it was instant!

Have another portable caffeine solution that's worked for you on climbing trips?  If so, I'd love to hear about it.  In the meantime, check these guys out!