Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Stone Fort, finally

After trying at least three or four times over the past several years to check out Chattanooga's legendary bouldering, only to be rained out, sick, or otherwise shut down, I finally made it down this past weekend.  Technically for John's bachelor party, albeit a coed one where the wildest of us went to bed at 9:30 on Saturday night, I worried for months that my Chattanooga curse would strike again.  It looked like that would happen too, with Dana messaging me last week to point out the solid Thursday through Monday of rain in the forecast.  We lucked out though, and I pulled in to Stone Fort on Friday with more than an hour of daylight left to enjoy the dry rock that my friends had been playing on for most of the day.

Charlie on Jerry Rigged
After failing to make it there for so long, it felt like just walking through the rocks would have been enough.

Actually, I might have been better off just walking through them.  After almost ten hours in the car, with too much coffee and too little water, my climbing was depressing at best.  Feeling shaky and sketched out on everything I touched, I finally gave up and climbed the nearest V0, just so I could top something out on what might be the only dry day I ever experienced there.  Even that seemed like a mistake when it took me five minutes to work up the courage to get back down.

The next morning, fortified by a good Mexican dinner and a solid night of sleep, we got an early start to climb as much as we could before the rain that was supposed to roll in around noon.  As it turned out, we were able to climb until well after 5:00, and I even managed to get my first sunburn of the year.

Deciding to go for volume over difficulty, I warmed up on several of the problems on the Bowling Ball before doing Kingpin, which I have to admit renewed my appreciation of slopers.  I took a couple shots at the beginning of I Think I Can, but realized it would ruin me for everything else, and went over to finish Watermelon Slab instead.  From there we all went down to Super Mario, which I was happy to find was actually as good as its reputation.

John on Super Mario
Justin on Super Mario
We hung around there for a while as people tried the different variations, and Mike developed a small obsession with running up the nearby slab.

Moving on, Charlie and Mark knocked out Deception in a couple tries each.

Mark making the reach
Charlie looking smooth...
...and going big
Then over to the Cyclops and Monster boulders for a few minutes.

Dana on Cyclops
Energy was starting to run low at that point, but we had good daylight left, and John and I still wanted to get on The Wave.  Unfortunately the hip/groin muscle/tendon that I had strained at GS a couple weeks ago was starting to act up again, and it locked up on me after I had matched the rail and turned onto the slab.  Even though I was only a couple easy moves from the top, I panicked and jumped down as all of the muscles around my hip started to fire in response to the pain.  Knowing I couldn't handle another attempt, I instead tried to cool down on a nearby jug line, only to find that even the easiest things in sight hurt too much to climb.  Oh well.  At least if I ever get back down there, I know I'll be able to finish it up in my first try or two.

                                             Me on The Wave                   Photo: Mark Profeta
That was it for me, and I contented myself with walking around while everyone else did a cooldown of their own.  It really was one of the most beautiful places I've ever climbed, and even just walking through it would have made any afternoon an amazing one.  Can't wait to get back down again.

In the meantime, my hip is feeling a little better, and I'm hoping to climb again as early as Thursday. And even if it's not ready by then, I had my best hangboard workout ever yesterday, so I'd definitely be motivated to fit in an extra session or two until I'm all healed up.  Gotta take the small victories, no matter which direction they come from.

Happy Spring!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Skratch Labs: Not just hydration!

It's easy to think of Skratch Labs as a hydration company.  Their drink mixes are, after all, their most visible product and what they're best known for.  And sure, I knew that they had a cookbook in the first few months that I was regularly using those drinks, but I didn't think I had much need for it. Then I picked one up.  Then another.  Now I have all three, and there's hardly a moment when they make it back onto the shelf.

When I visited the Skratch headquarters last summer, it was immediately apparent that food was as big a part of their lives as the drinks they made, whether fueling cyclists through intense races or just cooking for each other at the office.  Delicious and nurturing food was as important as any ride or run or climb, and a big table to share it with friends was a key ingredient in any good meal.  Behind the products that sustained my workouts was a larger lifestyle that I'm happy to have discovered.

The Skratch Labs recipes were developed and tested over years of supporting some of the most competitive races in the world, often made on the road under non-ideal circumstances, and now refined and distilled into these three great cookbooks by chef Biju Thomas and Skratch Labs founder Allen Lim.  Each has its place, and any athlete or non-athlete will probably find one that resonates most with their lifestyle.

The Feed Zone Cookbook

The one that started it all.  The preliminary section gives a user-friendly summary of how endurance athletes need to fuel, including advice on navigating the ever-changing sea of diets, as well as a breakdown of the ingredients and equipment most frequently used.  With chapters laid out to mirror the primary nutritional portions of a training day, and lots of carb heavy meals like pizza with potatoes, or pasta on top of salad, this is clearly a cookbook meant for those who either have a very active lifestyle or a well developed sense of portion control.  I still haven't made much from this one yet, but the pork green chili was a great start.

Feed Zone Portables
The first of the series that I picked up, and the one I use the most.  Like the original Feed Zone, this one also leads off with a crash course in fueling, but goes into much greater detail about calorie expenditure.  While much of this detail was less applicable to me as a primarily non-endurance athlete, I did find the bits about hydration and solid versus liquid food to be extremely useful in my own training. Every recipe I've tried has been fantastic too.  Designed to be portable (obviously), the foods are all tasty and generally high in water content, making them easier to chew and digest than the packaged bars I used to carry in my climbing bag and then forget about for months.  The mochi cereal bars have proven especially easy to make as last minute climbing food, and it's been fun to switch up the cereal, like these ones with a fall harvest mix.

This has also become my go-to breakfast cookbook, and with so many of the recipes baked in muffin tins at the same temperature, it's easy to make our breakfast guests think I worked way harder than I actually did!

Feed Zone Table

The newest and probably the most traditional of the three, this is also the one most suited to non-athletes who want to make good food without worrying about how to burn it off.  Rather than dealing with nutrition as in the previous books, Lim instead uses the introduction to discuss the self-imposed isolation faced by many athletes due to their particular eating habits, and the importance of cooking and eating together in promoting well-being.  The recipes are simple and generally lighter than in the previous books, and perfect for either entertaining larger groups or just making sure you have plenty of delicious leftovers on hand.  

All three of the books are well laid out, full of easy to follow recipes with a wide international flavor and mouth watering photos of nearly every one, as well as complete nutritional information.  The recipes are designed to be adaptable seasonally or depending on what ingredients are on hand, and I love the fact that specific substitutions are given to help those who may not have a sense of what is replaceable and what isn't.  For example, the French toast cakes were great when I had a couple of croissants to use...

But when I didn't have any bread on hand, the same batter mixed with leftover rice and quinoa and some shredded coconut was just as delicious.

Likewise, I started off making the rice cakes as given in the recipes, but after learning the basic technique found myself branching out more frequently into whatever combinations sounded good at the moment.  These ones with almonds, black sesame seeds, and rose water were a particular favorite.

If you're considering picking up one or all of these books, but aren't quite ready to commit, Skratch Labs has several of the recipes posted on their blog to try out.  They also have several recipes posted for their outstanding cookie mix, which even with my minimal baking experience I've used to make both regular and vegan batches that I could happily live on.

So there you have it.  Good recipes from good people who love good food.  Check it out!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

GS slabs and slopers

I can't remember the last time I was this sore from a day of climbing.  That's a good thing though. Better to wake up sore than wonder if I really climbed hard enough to justify the drive.

Yesterday a few of us went up to Governor Stable to take advantage of some gorgeous mini-spring weather, making it my first visit there in almost a year, and my first since the South Central Pennsylvania Climbers have stepped up to manage access to the area.  Excited to see the place in such good hands!

The biggest thing on my list yesterday was trying No Moss, which I remembered looking at years ago before I had the crimp strength to start it.  Now the crimp strength is there, but I was reminded pretty quickly that I've spent minimal time on hard slopers in the last year.  Not wanting to burn all of my energy at the beginning of the day, Mark and I moved up to the Breadloaf area where I ran through a few of the boulders I'd done on my last visit, and blew a foot off Doughboy after eating one too many cookies.

Mark lining up on Doughboy
After Mark made quick work of Party Hardy, we went over toward Juggernaut so he and Dana could get on Huck N Hard.

Dana working Huck N Hard
Meanwhile I got absorbed in the slab below, quickly finishing Pimp Smack before throwing myself at Simon for the rest of the day.  I was too tired to get it by the time I dialed in my beta, but am looking forward to getting on it again when I'm fresh.

Katelyn pulling slopers on Simon
It's easy to get frustrated when I walk away without finishing the climbs I wanted to.  A couple weeks ago I had an afternoon at Northwest Branch where my inability to hold on to a move sent me down a spiral of negative self-talk, and it wasn't until hours later that I was able to remind myself that sometimes we just have bad days.

Yesterday it was easier.  I fell a lot, but I was falling on holds I wasn't used to.  The fact that I was working hard slopers for hours without finger pain was exciting enough, and realizing that I can now re-learn how to move on them opens up a whole range of climbs that I've shied away from for the last year.

It was also exciting to realize that the things that would have helped me yesterday are things I'm already working on.  Between wishing I had more lockoff and pure pulling strength, and finding that I needed to be able to step my foot just a little bit higher, it gave me that much more motivation to continue the stretching and shoulder and core work I've already been doing.  Now let's just hope the snow stays away so I can put it all to good use!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Catoctin bouldering update

A while back, my friends at Mid Atlantic Climbers put out a statement about the current bouldering prohibition at Catoctin Mountain Park.  While they continue to work hard toward securing access, today they posted an update reminding local climbers that Catoctin bouldering is still off limits.  I understand that the climbing there is great, and I'm certainly looking forward to checking it out myself when it's legal again, but I'd like to echo their reminder that climbing there in the meantime will only hurt those efforts.  Contrary to old opinions about our little state, Maryland has more than enough rock to keep us busy for a lifetime even if the currently closed areas are never reopened, including several lines that remain unclimbed or unrepeated.  If you're going to a closed area because you feel like that's your only option for climbing at your limit, let me know and I'd be happy to help steer you toward something equally worthy of your time.

Thanks again to Mid Atlantic Climbers for everything you do!

Edit 2/13/16- Here's a map of the area showing exactly where the park borders are.  Catoctin is closed, while the other public lands remain open to climbing.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

You climb rocks in winter? Yes!

Barring the temporary inconvenience of snow on the rocks, we're right in the middle of prime bouldering season here in Maryland.  While I see how this might confuse my non-climber friends, I'm surprised how many climbers I know who write off everything between November and March as gym time.  Sure, I probably wouldn't want to be on a rope for a long pitch anytime soon, but with the right preparations it's hard to pass up the added friction that winter affords us.

Layer it up

No, a tank top with a thick down jacket over it doesn't count.  It probably sounds condescending to even mention dressing in layers these days, since someone out there will give that very advice for any weather or destination, but a coordinated series of thin layers really makes a difference for cold weather bouldering.  I usually start with a Capilene base layer, and then put on a thin t-shirt, a soft shell vest and/or jacket, and a sweat shirt or fleece over top of it all.  Since prime bouldering season usually coincides with hunting season, something bright on top is never a bad idea.  And speaking from personal experience, make sure that outer layer has pockets before you get out to the boulders and wish you had them.

Pre-warm those fingers

Forget your usual warmup circuit.  While gradually working your way up from very easy climbs is usually the sensible thing to do, spending half an hour grabbing big cold holds is a great way to kill your motivation before you even touch the climb you came out to do.  Instead, find a way to warm your fingers up on the way there.  I like to use a grip ring like the ones from So iLL, working through various finger combinations on the drive to the boulders.  I may still need to do a couple of easier climbs before I get on my project for the day, but generally that's more to get my arms and shoulders ready to pull.

Think whole body

In cold weather our bodies work to keep our core heated, at the expense of warmth in our extremities. Warming up our fingers is important, but it won't last long unless we get everything else moving too. Unless there's already a really long approach, I like to go for a quick run once I've dropped my pads at the boulders, or at least jog in place and do some jumping jacks if that's the only option.  I also try to keep moving between climbs as much as I can, not sitting unless I absolutely have to.

Hydrate hot

Hydrating is just as important in cold weather as in the heat, which is easy to forget when we're not covered in sweat.  Whenever possible, hot drinks are the way to go.  Not only do they help boost your core temperature, but you'll be way more motivated to take a drink when you don't feel like it's freezing your throat on the way down.  My drink of choice this winter has been the apple cinnamon hydration mix from Skratch Labs, delivering all the joy of spiced cider with an added electrolyte boost.  Their matcha and lemon flavor is also a good option, especially for an after work bouldering session when that little caffeine kick is extra helpful.

Comfy feet

It's hard to climb if you can't feel your feet.  On really cold days I like to put my shoes under the heat vent while driving to the boulders, and then carry them inside my jacket to keep them warm on the approach or in between climbs.  Now here's where I may lose my bouldering card, but I also keep my socks on unless I'm wearing really aggressive shoes.  Maybe I'll never make a magazine cover that way, but my feet don't get cold every time I change shoes and I've never noticed a decrease in performance.

             Silver Spot at Maryland's top-roping capital, Carderock.               Photo: Chris Irwin

So there you have it.  Our sweaty summers will be back soon enough and we'll all be wishing for crisp rock under our fingers, so get it while it's good.  Stay warm out there!