Saturday, November 18, 2017

Where has the time gone?

Almost Thanksgiving already, and somehow I haven't posted on here since February.  In fact, I started writing this over a month ago and am just now getting around to finishing it!  Partially it was the fact that other obsessions led me to spend far less time on the computer than usual, which isn't really a bad thing.  Specifically, I've been making it a point to read new books this year (14 so far!) instead of just reading the same Tolkien stories over and over, as well as playing a ton of fiddle.

I actually did do less climbing this past spring than I wanted to though, continuing struggle with back injuries that I later found out were due to having two bulging disks in my lower spine.  The good news is that stretching, PT, and changing how I do many basic motions throughout my day has made a huge difference for me, so I feel like this winter I'll finally be able to get my climbing back on track.  I've even been able to start getting out on several of the overhung boulders that I had resigned myself to never being able to touch without injury, and it's brought a whole new level of excitement for me.  I'm not an old man yet!

So what else has my year brought?  Well, two big trips to start with.  In the spring I spent a fantastic week visiting my mother-in-law in Vietnam, which had hands down the most welcoming people I've ever met while traveling, as well as some of the best food.

This summer I had planned to roadtrip out west and eventually join friends in Squamish, and then they decided to go climb for two weeks in France and Switzerland instead.  So across the ocean I went!

Other than that, I've just been putting in a bunch of training time at the gym and then getting out locally whenever I can.  Back in March I got Taimur out for a tour of Bushwhack, where we knocked out the short slab that had shut a bunch of us down a couple years ago.  It was crazy to see how easily he smeared up in his Agros when my old Miuras had always greased right off, but with my own pair not arriving until the next day, I managed to find an edgier way to the top in my Shamans.

Last weekend I went back out with Indy and Rob, where among other things we dropped a rope so Rob could enjoy the slabby glory of Nine and Three Quarters without worrying about the backbreaking fall.

                                   Photo by Mark 'Indy" Kochte

I've started getting out to Catoctin/Cunningham a little more, and have been especially happy that my back has been able to handle the steepness of the Jonah boulder.  While it hasn't quite felt ready for the first move of Never Let Me Go, it's held up nicely for Baron Harkonen and a couple of fun variations.

                                                              Photo by John Brunson

As usual in the Fall, I've also been making some after work trips to Northwest Branch, running through my usual circuits and especially happy to find all of the holds on Seam Nightmares finally useable again.

And with perfect diabase temperatures setting in, of course I've been making the trip up to Gretna whenever I can.  So far I haven't done anything too exciting, but my back has finally been feeling good enough to try Equilateral, although I was so tired that I peeled off the last move by the time I had worked out my sequence for the rest of it.  Guess that just means I'll enjoy it even more when I do top it out.

                                                                                       Photo by Mark Profeta
Until next time!

Monday, February 20, 2017


Sometimes February in Maryland is really cold.

Sometimes we can't climb because the rocks are covered in snow.

Sometimes it's really warm though, and we decide to kayak out to climb some island cliffs.

Sometimes we roll the kayak, and the water is really cold, because it's still February.

Sometimes our friends have to save us, and even though we didn't get to climb, we're happy to have such good friends.

Actually, that's a lot more than sometimes.  In the last 14 months, I've been carried back to my car, had my head bandaged after a rock hit it, and now been dragged out of an icy river.  Thanks Indy for making sure another of my unexpected adventures had a happy ending!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Sourland slab fun

2017 is off to a strong start, if only because I've so far managed to stick to my goal of not injuring myself.  Seriously, the amount of lower back and related core injuries I've had over the past couple years has been depressing, and I feel like every time I start to get strong, I mess myself up again.

Rather than leave it entirely to luck, I've tried to be proactive by stretching and foam rolling for at least half an hour every morning, lifting (and I hate lifting) to balance out my muscles, and by taking a break from running for the foreseeable future.  While I've managed to run for most of the last year without straining my knees, I can't help but feel that the repeated impact isn't doing my back much good.  I've also made it a point to limit myself as much as possible to slab and vertical terrain, which admittedly I've done a pretty poor job of so far.  Yesterday I stuck to the plan though, driving up to the Sourlands in New Jersey for a slab that's been on my mind ever since I first saw it four or five years ago.  Who would have thought that one of my top three boulders that I wanted to do anywhere would be in New Jersey?

Granted, when I first saw it, I had no idea how hard it was.  Walking up the hill toward the boulders at my first Sourland Smackdown, it was the first boulder I saw, and I decided it would make a great warmup.  Then I realized it was one of the open projects listed on the scorecard, and went off to find something a little easier to start with.  Tim Keenan managed to put it down that day though, calling it From NY with Love, and I've wanted to get back to it ever since.

I tried two weekends ago, only to get there and find everything drenched.  Yesterday was perfect though.  Bone dry, with a high of 35, and just enough sun to keep me warm in between goes.  The boulder actually went down relatively quickly too, though I'll admit I bailed off the top twice before sucking it up and going for the lip.  Then I just reminded myself that I might never get conditions that good again, and was embarrassed to find that the move to the lip was way easier than I was making it.

Felt good to put this one down.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Skratch Labs cookie mix: 4CA cookie recipe

As temperatures fall and ideal bouldering weather in the Mid-Atlantic arrives, I find myself getting just as excited about the shift in which things I want to cook.  In my mind, summer is grilling season, and winter is baking season.  Yes, I understand that both can be done year round, and I've certainly had my manliness questioned for admitting that I'd rather be next to a warm oven in the winter than out on the deck with tongs in hand and snow in my hair, but if anything that dividing line (albeit blurry) just makes me more excited for the change in season and the arrival of new food options.

It's fitting that ideal bouldering weather is also ideal baking weather, since bouldering and cookies are one of the best pairings I've ever found.  I still don't know nearly as much about the ins and outs of baking as I do about other types of cooking, but Skratch Labs' cookie mix gave me a great jumping off point, and the 4CA (coffee, cinnamon, coconut, chocolate, almond) cookies I make with it are my favorite.  Given the amount of requests I get for the recipe when I've brought them to demos or out climbing, I figured it was time to write it down.

4CA cookies


1 box Skratch Labs cookie mix
1 stick butter
1 egg
1/3 cup mini chocolate chips
1/3 cup unsweetened coconut
1/3 cup almonds
1 tbsp coffee
1 tbsp cinnamon (I prefer Vietnamese cinnamon)


1) Preheat oven to 350F.

2) Crush almonds or grind them in a food processor.

3) Combine all ingredients except butter and egg.  Mix until evenly distributed.

4) Add the butter and egg, and continue mixing until all of the dough sticks together

5) Place rounded teaspoons of dough on baking sheet for individual cookies, or press it into a rectangle on the baking sheet for cookie bars.

6) Bake 10-15 minutes for individual cookies, or 15-25 minutes for bars, depending on desired firmness.

7) Share them with your friends!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Vegas Thanksgiving 2016

A week ago I was settling in to Vegas for our yearly Thanksgiving visit.  Although we've been doing it for years, I rarely post about it here, mostly because each trip seems so similar to the last that I feel like mentioning it would be repetitive.  Then I realized that as new places have opened, and our tastes have changed, this year actually was different enough from my original experiences out there that I wanted to pass along some of my favorite parts of it.

All of our Vegas trips start at Red Rocks, usually driving out to Desert Rock Sports to rent a crash pad (still $15 for regular size and $25 for highball), which we love since we don't have to drag pads through airports in two directions for a few hours of bouldering.  Recently we've been stopping at the Red Rock casino on the way out for a bite to eat, usually just at the food court there, but in the past couple years at Yard House because we've gotten there late enough that the main restaurants are open.  I know it's a chain, but (and teenage me never would have said this) I was craving their brussels sprouts anyway. Maybe not the best thing in my stomach before climbing, but tasty.

Although we usually just head to the Kraft boulders, this year we decided to take a drive on the scenic loop first since we'd never done that, and decided to check out some of the bouldering along the loop. We only made one climbing stop, at the Sandstone Quarry boulder, but we had it to ourselves and got a bit of fun slab movement in to stretch our bodies back out after so much sitting.

Now here's where, as a climber, I'm supposed to say that I hated leaving that perfect serene desert for the unnatural bright light of the strip and the wasteful, capitalistic, and shallow things it embodies. Except I have to admit I kind of love it.  True, I would never want to be there for more than a few days, but there's always something to see and do, no matter your preferences.  My preference is eating and drinking my way through the trip, having good conversations, and watching all of the interesting people go by.  I never get tired of the sights!

This year we stayed at Caesar's Palace, which we'd somehow never stayed at before despite hanging out there every year.  My favorite is still Paris, with painted ceilings making me feel like I'm outside, but Caesar's had a comfort when I was staying there that I'd never felt when just walking through. Not that I'd ever want to spend a whole trip in one casino, but with the good variety of bars and restaurants there, Caesar's was a place where I might be able to do that.  It didn't hurt that we got an upgraded room for my birthday, and the view was beautiful.

All of our breakfasts were at Caesar's, and I'll admit that breakfast was the one meal that surprised me with how expensive it was.  Cafe Americano has always had good food when we've gone there on the past couple trips, and although the prices do seem a bit steep, the servings are pretty big.  For me that's a downside, since I don't want to be too full to look forward to all of the other great food out there, but I think most people would feel better about it.  The veggie benedict I had this year was actually a reasonable size though, and the Brown Derby I washed it down with helped my morning off to a great start.

I actually liked our breakfast at Payard a bit better, though I'll admit I'm partial to pastries, and the pastry basket was one of the cheapest things on the menu.  All three were tasty, and way bigger than I expected considering I got to choose three of them.

Our final breakfast of the trip took a completely different direction, with Emily wanting to go to the 24 hour Beijing Noodle No. 9, since the wait had been too long for dinner the night before.  Again, not cheap, but huge portions of delicious food.  Our stomachs also felt surprisingly good for the flight, considering how much we ate.

We were never really hungry enough for lunch, but we did get some snacks at LVB Burger (Mirage) and China Poblano (Cosmopolitan), which I had been wanting to try for a while.  Everything we tried at China Poblano was decent enough, though I didn't find it as good as at the other Jose Andres restaurants I've visited.

For dinner the first night, I had toyed with requesting our standby favorite Bouchon (Venetian) for my birthday dinner, but we were pretty wiped and didn't feel like leaving our own casino.  Too bad in a way, since I loved the boudin blanc last year and those fries are always incredible.

Instead we ended up staying at Caesar's and going to the Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill, another place I've wanted to try for a while.  We split a bunch of small plates, and the scotch egg was one of the better ones I've had.

Harvest (Bellagio) was our choice for Thanksgiving dinner, and although we've learned that our Friday night meals are almost always better than what we get on Thanksgiving, the mushroom porridge I had was delicious.  Dressing up was fun too.

Our last dinner of the trip was at Mesa Grill, another of our standby spots, and the mushroom quesadilla was as awesome as ever.  Apparently awesome enough that I ate it before grabbing a photo.

We also went to a few good new (to us) cocktail places, on top of our usual stops.  Rhumbar (Mirage) has always been one of our favorites, both for the quality and reasonable cost of the cocktails, and for the outdoor couches with heat lamps.  A perfect compromise when the Black Friday #optoutside thing wasn't going to happen for us.

Public House (Venetian) was a place I knew I wanted to get back to, but I didn't realize exactly how long I'd want to spend there.  Well worth the stop!

Another of our favorites has always been the Chandelier (Cosmopolitan), and we did enjoy our stop there as usual.

We also got a chance to check out Vesper (Cosmopolitan), which had a fun concept of featuring several classic cocktails along with their own take on them.  I was really happy with the Mother Club, a variation on a Bobby Burns.

The one place I hadn't heard about, and certainly didn't expect to be a good cocktail spot, was the Montecristo cigar bar (Caesar's Palace).  We took a look at the cocktail menu in passing, and I wanted to at least stop to try the Rolling Smoke, made with Makers 46, Laphroaig, and a coffee-infused Carpano Antica.  Totally worth it!

A big revelation for me this time out there was how fun it is to run on the Strip.  I usually get up sometime between 5:30-6:00 and take a walk until everyone else wakes up, but on this trip decided to go for runs on two of my three mornings.  With well lit streets, lots to see, and almost flat ground, the miles flew by quickly and I still felt energized when I finished.

So that's that.  Funny how a trip I make every year can seem so different every time, but that's part of what I love about it, and why I'm always looking forward to going back.  For now though, it's good to be home!