Friday, September 9, 2016


Summer is at an end, for me at least, and as the coveted crispness of fall bouldering weather approaches I settle back into knowing what day it is again, and accept that the freedom to plan long climbing trips must now give way to weekend excursions and quick afterwork jaunts in the woods.  In other words, time to get focused.

With my students starting last Monday, I jumped on the chance to energize myself with two days of weekend fun, starting with the fantastic Microadventure DC event put on by The North Face Georgetown.  Choosing Carderock for its ease of access from the city, TNF brought out 44 aspiring climbers to experience the park's hiking and climbing opportunities, with American Alpine Club volunteers running the belays and Earth Treks generously providing the harnesses, shoes, and helmets for all participants.  As an added crowd pleaser, TNF flew in badass climber, adventurer, flight addict, and Alpine Start cofounder Matt Segal, who I hadn't seen since my equally badass mom was trying to throw him in the pool after my sister's wedding.

                                                                  Photo: Matt Segal
Let me break this down again... over 40 people, many of whom hadn't even climbed in the gym before, getting an all inclusive trip to climb outside with some of the most experienced people in the area and one world class athlete.  For free.  My respect for The North Face went through the roof with this one.

As an extension of their Never Stop Exploring mission, The North Face held Microadventure events around the country, drawing on Alastair Humphreys' vision of adventures that are "short, simple, local, cheap - yet still fun, exciting, challenging, refreshing and rewarding."  In the words of event organizer Sara Brown, they wanted "to show the community that even now as summer comes to an end and the days get shorter- there's still enough time to get up, get out and get after it."  Not content to simply put the challenge out there, they sought to identify and eliminate factors that might limit participation, as well as to show new climbers from their first day that there's a supportive community waiting for them.

                                                                                             Photo: Peter Jensen
For some, the battle was taking that first step off the ground, but even on the notoriously polished slabs of Carderock, I didn't see a single climber not make it to the top of a route that they set out to climb.  Not only did many of them surpass their own expectations under the coaching of the AAC volunteers, but many of them quickly found a comfort that freed them up to try new movements on their own, at times spontaneously trying techniques that some climbers don't learn for years.

                                                                                            Photo: Peter Jensen

                                                  Photo: Peter Jensen
                                                                                            Photo: Peter Jensen
Maybe it was just my inner teacher coming out, but for me the day was just as exciting as one spent climbing.  Watching their successes, their joy of experimentation, and the new friendships that will become branches of our ever growing community, I left Carderock psyched for a chance to do it again.

Not that I left Carderock for long.  The next morning a few of us were back for an early start, with another ninety degree day ahead of us, and little chance of the shade that had made the previous day so comfortable.  Rather than Carderock's well polished main faces, our sights were set on the waterside slabs of Vaso Island.

                                                                                  Photo: Mark 'Indy' Kochte
                                                                                  Photo: Mark 'Indy' Kochte
After successfully dodging poison ivy on the way to the river, and managing to avoid tipping as we adjusted to paddling with each other, we soon rounded the tip of the island and it was all I could do to keep from giggling at all of the beautiful rock ahead of us.

With only a vague knowledge of what we were looking at, and how much of it had been climbed before, we decided the simplest plan was to start at the nearest cliff and climb our way down on whatever looked good.  

                                                                                 Photo: Mark 'Indy' Kochte

While some of the faces were too overgrown to touch this early in the year, we found plenty to keep us busy.  The features of the rock gave us the familiar feeling of climbing at Carderock, but with a friction that we had never experienced there.  In fact, it felt almost as if we had gone back in time, experiencing what our familiar crag must have felt like to its earliest pioneers, before decades of wear smoothed it to its current state.

The final cliff we visited was easily my favorite, with no shoreline between rock and canoe, and fun climbing on knobs through small roofs and a big corner system.  There was an even better looking face just to the right that I can't wait to get back and check out.

                                                  Photo: Mark 'Indy' Kochte
For such a small state, Maryland has no shortage of adventure to be found.  Even after years of walking through the woods looking for new boulders to climb, and visiting places that few people have seen despite their proximity to densely populated areas, I can still hop in a canoe just outside of the city and have a day of climbing like I've never experienced before.  Not a bad place to be.  

Wishing all of you out there safe adventures, micro or otherwise!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Wake up call

"Are you okay???"

I had never heard Indy sound so concerned for someone, and as I turned around to see who was hurt, my mind ran through the possibilities.  There were four of us left from the larger party that had been out at White Rocks that day, now finishing up at a less traveled block of cliffs just over from the main area. One of my group had just been belaying me from the ground, while two others watched from a blocky ramp that projected from the side of the beautiful quartzite face.

Had my belayer rolled an ankle on the uneven ground?  No, he looked okay.

Had someone on the ramp fallen off or been bitten by a rattler catching the late afternoon sun?  Why was there blood dripping from my glasses?

"You got hit by a rock."

With my body still riding the adrenaline from the climb I had just finished, I didn't notice that a softball sized rock had glanced off my head as I looked down to check my footing or start untying my knot. Still not convinced it had happened, I put my hand to my scalp and could feel the blood filling my hair.

"Keep your hand there and try to slow the bleeding until we can take a look."

Grateful for the direction, I pressed down on my scalp (why didn't this hurt?) while John Kelbel untied me from the rope and helped me to a seat.  As Indy lowered the first aid kit to us, I noted again how disturbing okay I felt.  Not just free of pain, but coherent and not feeling even remotely dizzy or faint.

"Head wounds bleed a lot," they told me.  It was a fact that I found oddly reassuring, but with a mile hike out and an hour drive home ahead of me, I would take any reassurance I could get.  I also knew that calmness was the key, and calmness would come from relinquishing my control of the situation and leaving myself in their hands.  If something like this had to happen, those were good hands to be in.

They patched me up, belayed me back up the hill in case dizziness took me, and by the time we got back to the cars they were comfortable enough with my functioning to let me drive home if Indy followed behind me.  An hour later, he turned me over to Emily and we went down the road to the urgent care to get me checked out.  No concussion, no skull fractures, still calm enough that my pulse rate set off the alarms on the machine, and only two stitches needed.

I was lucky.

I've said this a few times in the past week, but this was really an ideal kind of accident to have.  With a rock of that size, the smallest change of position could have drastically altered the outcome, and yet here I am a week later typing this on my deck with only the itchiness of a healing cut to remind me that it happened.  Scary enough to get my attention, but with the right people there to guide me through it, and minor enough that I can get back out and apply the lessons I learned while they're still fresh in my mind.

On the off chance those lessons will help anyone else, here are the three biggest:

1)  Head wounds bleed a lot.  It looks scary, but it's normal, so stay calm and do something about it.

2)  Put pressure on the wound to stop the bleeding.  Probably the first thing we learn in any first aid class, but in the moment I still had to be reminded to do it, and I'm glad there were people there to give me that reminder.

3)  Wear a helmet!  If you take nothing else out of this, wear a helmet.  If I had been wearing one at the time, I wouldn't have any stitches in my head right now.  So why wasn't I wearing one, especially when I had one with me?  Because I had just come down from a toprope climb, and very few of us ever wear helmets on toprope.  I can't even use the "helmets look stupid in photos" copout, since I was already wearing socks under my upturned climbing shoes when one of my partners was there for the sole purpose of taking guidebook photos.  No, my lack of helmet had nothing to do with a misplaced sense of fashion, and everything to do with the complacency that arises when we think we've minimized the most likely dangers.  Yes, helmets protect us when we fall, and falls resulting in head injury are unlikely on a toprope.  But helmets also protect us from falling objects, and I should have remembered that an undeveloped rock face is likely to have loose pieces at the top that may be dislodged.  Even on well-traveled cliffs, most climbing in Maryland is accessed from the top, meaning there are likely to be people above who may knock or throw all manner of objects over the edge.  Please, if you're reading this, take my experience as a communal lesson and avoid learning it firsthand.

Stay safe out there!

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!