Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ropes in Vegas

Vegas is an odd place.

Friendly trees...

Good beer in plastic cups to go...

Inside looks like outside...

Outside looks like inside...

And mountains always at the edge of sight to remind us that reality still exists...

This is the seventh year that Emily and I have joined her dad on the Strip for Thanksgiving, trading hot turkey and football on the couch for a few days of good drinks, awesome food, and the best people watching we can find outside of the Renaissance Festival.

As usual, rather than heading straight to the Strip, we rented a car and got in a few hours surrounded by the surreal formations of Red Rocks.

Usually we just rent a crash pad and head out for a few hours of bouldering, during which I always have my sights set a little too high, and fail miserably on whatever project I've convinced myself is going to happen. This time we decided to bring a rope out for a change of pace.  True it would mean an extra bag through the airport, but the idea of getting in some easy mileage seemed way more appealing than my usual flailing five feet off the ground.  And since Emily had never done any real multi pitch, hearing there was a 3 pitch 5.9 sport route called Big Bad Wolf sealed it.

Good holds on a vertical face for the first pitch.

Gorgeous slab for the second.

More slab and a vertical finish for the third.  All with bolts seemingly every five feet and good chain anchors at the top of every pitch.  Definitely more relaxing than anything we had done out there before.  At least until Emily joined me at the top of the second pitch and I could hear her knee crackling from ten feet away.

She thought we could still make it to the top.  As amazing as the third pitch looked, pushing her knee seemed like a terrible idea considering we still had a good scramble to get back to the trail, so we called down to the party below us to let them know we'd be rapping down.

Going into the day, my only real concern was that Emily hadn't rappelled in a couple years, but fortunately that came back to her pretty quickly and she was soon clipped into the first set of chains.  Where she promptly dropped her belay device.

There was a moment of us all watching it slide in slow motion down the remaining slab, and I think I even managed to briefly catch it with my foot.  As it turned the corner into the vertical, Emily had the presence of mind to yell "ROCK!" to the parties gathered below, as the ATC rocketed down to glance sharply off a rock and find a comfortable rest under a bush.  I have to admit I was a little jealous that it had gotten down so soon.

About three years ago, I used to go to Ilchester and set an anchor just to spend a couple hours ascending and rappelling using every technique I knew, even making it a point to switch devices/techniques while still hanging rather than doing so from the safety of a good stance.  So with a full pitch of Big Bad Wolf below us, at least I knew there were options.

We pulled the rope out of the anchors above us, gradually to avoid hitting the climber who was now on the most delicate part of the second pitch.  The good news was we didn't hit him.  Unfortunately, our gentle pulling meant the rope didn't come down as diagonally as we needed it to, and the end of it was now lodged behind a flake about 25 feet up.

When no amount of pulling and flipping would dislodge it, the guy who was belaying next to us offered to traverse over and free it on his way up the second pitch, so I clipped Emily into the rope with my ATC and looked around to see what I had for getting myself down.  Fortunately when getting ready back at the car, my paranoia had overcome any need to travel light and fast, and I now had just enough locking carabiners to build a carabiner brake to rappel on.

By this point, our companion on the ledge had gotten up and freed our rope, which promptly hit the climber below us in the head on the way to the ground.  After an appropriate round of apologies, my improvised rappel device had me safely to the ground, and Emily soon joined me to gather our belongings (including her wayward ATC) and pick our way back to the trail.

Climbs like this remind me how glad I am to have backup plans, and backups to the backups.  The also remind me how glad I am that climbers are generally so supportive of each other.  Whether I'm the one helping or being helped, there's always been a common understanding that this kind of stuff happens to all of us, and if any of them went home later and laughed about our train wreck of a climb, they at least had the decency to keep it quiet until we were safely back at the cars.

We went out there to spend a day doing some fun easy climbing on some pretty rock, and to give Emily her first real multi pitch.  We did some fun easy climbing.  The rock was pretty.  True we only finished the first two pitches instead of all three, but two is still multi pitch, and I have to say I was glad for the opportunity to pull out some skills that I never thought I'd have to actually use.  And to top it all off, we still had three nights on the Strip ahead of us.  It was a great day.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Frederick Bouldering

Matt Rockwell on Blood Diamond

I probably should have rested on Sunday after all the fun I had at the Gretna comp the day before, but since my friend Sean and I had missed seeing each other the last couple times he was in town, I taped up the hole in my finger and headed out to Frederick to show him some of the stuff that's been developed since he moved out west.  Well, actually it was Jon Alexander who showed a few of us around that day, since we were heading to an area that I still hadn't managed to make it to yet.

Check out Jon's summary of the day, and keep an eye on his site for more exciting updates on the current explosion of Frederick bouldering development.  Glad someone's keeping track of it!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Gretna comp 2014

Charlie Garcia on The Box, Mt. Gretna
Went to my first Gretna comp yesterday, and they threw a heck of a party.  It's something I've been wanting to go to for a while, mainly as an opportunity to find my way around a notoriously confusing boulder field, but I'd have gone way sooner if I'd known exactly how much fun I'd have.  Charlie obviously crushed everything he touched, and I have to say I was pretty happy with how things turned out for me too.  Some of my successes...

-Making a casual entrance- Yeah, things started at 8, but showing up at 9:30 works just as well.

-Falling off the top of my warmup- Porcelain was the one problem I was really psyched to do, so we went there first, and I promptly fell from the top on my first go.  I also forgot to clean the resulting dirt out of my shoes, and fell again on my second attempt, which my ankle wasn't all that happy about.

-Breaking my second climb- Deciding Porcelain wasn't a good idea, I turned 90 degrees and tried Needle to the Vein.  Almost an easy flash, until a crimp snapped off and dumped me on the pads again.  At least it still went easily afterward.

-Balance- I think the first couple falls jarred something, because I spent the next hour feeling a bit wobbly and constantly tripping over myself, or randomly almost falling over on flat ground.  At least Charlie was having issues too.

-Finding my own footholds and then forgetting to use them-  After warming up, we went back down the hill to get on The Adjuster.  Like many problems, there are a ton of ways to climb it based on body type and climbing style, and what I did ended up being nothing like what I've seen in videos.  Unfortunately the effort I put into efficient climbing at the bottom didn't translate into my topout footwork, and I pumped out trying to mantle of the the lip.

-Skin conservation-  On a following attempt at The Adjuster, I got a nice split in the tip of the index finger, though honestly I still had a bit of a hole in it from working Curtain Call two days earlier.  Hooray for tape!

-Remembering to stretch-  Later in the day we stopped to climb the beautiful Scarlet Lady slab, and I was just marveling at how easy it felt when my calf decided to lock up.  Mental note: electrolytes are my friend.

-Not even writing anything on my scorecard- But let's be honest, I never planned to anyway.  Way more fun that way.

-Dinner plans-  All day long we had been planning to stop at the Troeg's brewery for dinner and some recovery fluids.  Not sure why we thought 6:00 on a Saturday with a Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert down the street was going to happen.  Impressed that they had at least five guys waving glowing red sticks to more efficiently move us through the maze of cones and back out of the lot.

-Backup plans-  When we couldn't find a Sheetz for food, McDonald's seemed like a good option too, especially when I had my first ever Big Mac.  I'm a grown up boy now!

So yeah... Slightly sore ankle, sliced up finger tip, assorted other scrapes and bruises... Guess I'd better go hit the bakery and fuel up for a day of Frederick bouldering!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Fear of success

I should have finished Curtain Call months ago.  After working on it three times this week, I still haven't gotten it, but at least now am consistently falling on the last move.  At least, some of the time I'm falling. Unfortunately at other times I find myself not really committing to the move, or stepping off in anticipation of failure.

That's nothing new though.  It's been a long standing habit of mine to put my foot down when I'm going for a hard move.  In fact, when talking to someone about Flipping the Switch, Flipping the Bird, and Tauntaun Sleeping Bag at Bushwhack the other day, I described the cruxes as not putting the left foot down when making the throws.

Obviously I need to be more positive and expect success rather than failure when I'm pushing myself, but I think there might actually be more to it than that.  On Curtain Call a few days ago, I finally stuck a move that had been giving me trouble in previous sessions, yet rather than being excited my reaction was "oh no, now I have to finish it."

Why would I have reacted that way?  Certainly not because I was worried about the fall if I committed to going higher.  If anything, I find that I get so caught up in working on certain climbs that I have a hard time with the idea that they won't be projects for me anymore.  My first project, Bitch Slap Arete out at Coopers, was one that I loved working on so much that I always said I'd enjoy going there every time and working even if I never finished it.  And as soon as I got strong enough to finish it, I avoided it altogether.  In fact, I don't think I've even touched it in four or five years.  Pretty stupid considering how much I liked it.

It's good to have projects, but the reality is that with so many things out there that I want to climb, it's a poor use of time to repeatedly go out to work on things that I could have finished sessions earlier.  Time for that to stop.  If a climb is within my capability, I need to go out expecting success and mentally ready to finish it, or go somewhere else where my time is better spent.  If I walk away without success, it should be because I fall, not because I give up.  This isn't something I can change overnight, but it's an ideal I hope to reach for, and something that I hope my friends will remind me of too.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Windy Sunday

First really cold climbing day of the season, and the wind above Frederick was no joke.  Our day started with a highball flake problem that we'd visited once last year, the same one that Dan had topped out to find a timber rattler waiting for him.  Jon still wanted to finish it after taking a pretty intense fall from it last time, and he got it with no problem today.  And of course Charlie made quick work of it.

I skipped that one in favor of heading down the trail to another cluster of rock, wanting to take a shot at a fun looking compression problem I'd seen before.  Although it's not that tall, the rocky drop off behind the pads makes it feel way more exposed.  After chickening out toward the top, I told Charlie to go ahead and flash it, then got it on the next go.

                                                                                                                                                             Photo by Charlie Garcia
That one turned out to be pretty easy, but there was a stupidly hard compression line nearby that I'd love to go back and flail on.

Our next stop fell through due to logistical reasons, but Bryan and I got in a couple more good hours of bouldering back in Columbia at the Eden Brook boulder.  Tuesday Trivia kicked my butt as usual.  At least I came closer this time, and should be able to repeat it soon now that I've figured out the nuances again.  Bryan also found a fun sequence of his own to work, which will be a great addition to the usual circuit of problems there.

Not sure where I'm climbing on Tuesday yet, but with the day off work for the election, I'm sure I'll find something fun to do.