Friday, March 20, 2020

Northwest Branch access alert

What an interesting week it's been.  Last Thursday I was climbing at Northwest Branch when I found out that my school system would be closing for two weeks, though at the time I couldn't even imagine how quickly the situation would continue to change, and probably will for the foreseeable future.  At first I thought I would be spending more time at Northwest Branch to avoid the gyms.  Then the gyms closed, and with Northwest Branch experiencing near record crowds of climbers as a result, I've been avoiding going there as well.

In an update to their statement on COVID-19, Montgomery Parks has asked users to avoid touching any surfaces that are likely to be touched by other people.  As much as we may wish this to mean otherwise, we shouldn't be bouldering at Northwest Branch anytime soon.  The boulders will still be there later, so for now let's do our part in limiting the spread of the disease, as well as showing the park service that climbers continue to be a user group that is interested in working alongside them.

That being said, I'm hoping to use some of this time to finally put out an updated mini-guide to the boulders at NWB, since I lost the file I had been working from and had to start a new guide from scratch.  If anyone has "clean" photos of any boulders there (no climbers, crash pads, bags, etc.) and wanted to send some my way, I'd be grateful for any help speeding the process along.

Stay healthy and safe out there!

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Fun Size

It's been a good winter.  On top of whatever climbing I can manage on weekends, I've been consistently getting hour and a half long sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays before I pick up the girl from daycare.  Still not a ton, but way more than I was getting in last year at this time.  Mostly it's been Tension Board sessions, with quick trips to Northwest Branch when things are dry enough.

As the weather got cold, I had intended to make Ultimate Doom at Northwest Branch my winter project.  It wasn't something I wanted to spend long days working on, but figured if I spent some time working it on each of my short weekday sessions, eventually I'd piece it all together.  After my third session, I got a message about a variation on the Anklebiter boulder that looked interesting, and figured it would be a nice diversion for a couple days.  Seven sessions and almost two months later, I finally managed to finish it, in the end using a totally different sequence than when I first started working it.

Fun Size, a slightly less awkward name than Anklebiter Far Left High Start No Pedestal or something like that, is a variation of Anklebiter Far Left.  It starts on the good sloping rail a move into the regular problem, and follows the same path left around the corner, but without using the big pedestal below for feet.  While it's technically still an eliminate, it definitely doesn't feel like one.  In fact, the movement is intricate, sustained, and enough fun that I'll gladly keep getting on it for a long time to come.

While the sequence I used in the above video is almost the easiest way I found of getting through the climb, it's also possible when going around the corner to rock up on a heel and reach high for a right jug next to the tree rather than using the small crimp below.  This makes the move to the last left crimp a lot easier, though it does force an almost full-circle right hand movement to get around the tree and onto the horn on the arete.  For grading purposes, I'd probably base any number I gave on the easier moves using the jug, but personally I find the moves through the crimp to be much more satisfying.

I've started working on an update to my old NWB mini-guide, so if you get on this one and have any grading thoughts, let me know what you think.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Back at it again

I'm actually starting to feel like a climber again.  After I last posted on here, I went through almost three months of not climbing outside.  Mostly I just didn't have the opportunity, but when I did I usually got unexpectedly rained out, or in one case arrived to find the trail to the boulders closed.  At least I got on a couple fun trailside boulders while hiking in Colorado.

At the beginning of October my luck started to change, and I went from barely getting out to frequently climbing outside more than I did at the gym.  Most of this has been at Northwest Branch, since I can easily get there for a good hour and a half before I pick my daughter up from daycare.  I was especially excited to find the Foam Pit area accessible due to low water, and took the chance to get back on the ultra-slick Joes to Pros slab that Taimur and I climbed a few years ago.

Just for comparison, here's how the same spot looked a couple weeks ago.  Glad I got it while I could!

On a couple of my after-work sessions, I got in laps on Crimptastic and The Business.  With my fingers feeling weaker than they have in a long time after half a year away from hangboarding, I thought Crimptastic would give me more trouble.  As it turned out, all of the core strength I've picked up actually offset my decreased finger strength, and the moves felt better than ever.  Even the move to the lip, historically the crux for me, is no longer a low percentage move.

Today I woke up planning to go to Rocks and work on Moby, then got a later start than intended and headed toward Northwest Branch to go down to the Long Wall area.  Originally thinking I was going to work on Curtain Call, the massive log section sitting near the starting feet made me reconsider.

I ended up walking up to the Easter Egg boulder to warm up on Speed of Life, which I've always enjoyed for the delicate movement required.  The thing is, I've never quite been happy using the standard start, with the heel hook already in place.  To get my heel up there, I need to have a left hand up on a high hold for balance, then I basically feel like I'm climbing down into the start holds.  The rest of it is still balancey and fun, but it always seemed way easier then the V7/8 grade usually given.

Today I decided to try it without the heel in place, from a true sit start, something I'd never had any luck with in the past.  I tried toeing into a little chip about a foot down from the heel hook, intending to rock up on it hard enough to set a right toe hook that would let me get the left heel in place.  As soon as I rocked up, I realized that enough weight was off my left hand that I could just try going for the slopers.  After about an hour and several close attempts, I decided to try a foot about four inches higher than what I had been using, sticking the sloper right away, and easily finishing from there.  While I intended to switch into the heel hook before matching the slopers, the toe actually felt good enough that I never used the heel at all.

Climbing it this way felt harder than the heel-hook version for sure, but I still don't know that I'd call it an 8.  Maybe hard 6 or easy 7?  Normally I wouldn't even bother with numbers, but I've decided it's time to finally finish the Northwest Branch guide that I posted an incomplete version of several years ago, and am trying to get some of the grades firmed up.  More on that later though.

Hope everyone else is getting out there while the weather is good!

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Summer days

Summer break.  I only feel about five years older than when I started teaching, but somehow nineteen have gone by.  Time is funny like that though.  People tell you that everything goes too fast when you're watching your kids grow up, but things that my daughter started doing three weeks ago feel like they've been that way forever, and yet I left home yesterday for the last day of school feeling like the previous school year had just ended.  

Maybe that's just a matter of familiarity though.  Maybe in designating a period of time as "the last day of school," or "Thanksgiving," or "Sunday," the brain seeks to link it to previous last days and Thanksgivings and Sundays, and that's where the feeling of "didn't I just do this" comes from.  Maybe the reason that time stretches out so much with my daughter is that she's always doing something new, and I'm focusing on the endless novelty, rather than an endless repetition.

I did actually come one here to talk about climbing, but while we're on the subject of kids, people also tell you that having them is an adjustment.  It seems more accurate to say that having kids is a constant adjustment.  I'm back to climbing twice a week now, and am still fitting in good workouts at home, but something changes every few weeks and I have to figure out how to do it all over again.  Currently that means I do my core/stability workouts with my daughter in her Pack'n Play for as long as that lasts, and my pull-up workouts with her in my backpack, doing laps on the stairs between sets.  And now that I've typed that, I can almost guarantee I'll have to find a different way to do things next week, especially since she started walking yesterday.

Through the winter I was probably getting out on rock twice a month or so, and even though I didn't finish any of my projects, I definitely felt strong.  Moby might have happened if I'd gotten to it frequently enough that I didn't have to remember the moves every time, but I had a lot of fun working on it, and honestly it felt good just to let myself go out and push hard again.

On top of getting in some local bouldering whenever I could, I also made it to Sugarloaf in the spring for my first trad routes in almost two years.  I forgot how much I missed that!

                                                                                              Photo: Jeffrey Lash
Since spring break, I've still been getting to the gym regularly, but hadn't gotten a chance to climb outside aside from one route at Carderock while giving a clinic.  When I got out of work yesterday, it was right during my daughter's nap time, and I found myself with an hour and a half to kill before picking her up from daycare.  I felt the air outside my school, thought how good it would have felt as a climbing day if we hadn't been in school, and immediately went down to Northwest Branch to get in a quick session.  Even though I probably only climbed for 45 minutes, it was an unexpectedly perfect start to the summer.  Hoping there's plenty more where that came from!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Review: Evolv Rebel

After two weeks of wearing Evolv's new Rebels, the latest addition to their "performance lifestyle" lineup, I think I'm in love.  For me, they're a solid step up from the Zenders and the Cruzers, which says a lot considering the Zenders have been my everyday shoe this past year both at work and around town, and the Cruzers have been my shoe of choice for gym workouts.  Like their predecessors, the Rebels find that sweet spot of comfort, functionality, and style, while also addressing the few issues I've had with this style of shoe in the past.

For me, the thicker sole compared to previous models is a game changer.  I know a lot of people wear thin-soled approach shoes, and maybe this is just me being an old man, but my feet can't do it.  Ever since pulling a tendon in my foot five years ago, which kept me from climbing for a month and derailed any chance of cardio for far longer, I've been way more protective of my feet.  Like I said, I loved the Zenders and Cruzers, but I also needed an $80 pair of insoles that I switched into whichever pair of shoes I was wearing at the time.  The added support of the Rebels has meant those pricey insoles are now unnecessary for me, and they've taken me through two weeks of long days on my feet with absolutely no discomfort.

Even better, I'm way more inclined to actually use these as approach shoes.  Just to clarify, most of my climbing is in Maryland and Pennsylvania, and our approaches aren't over nice desert sand or soft beds of pine needles.  We walk through dense woods, usually without trails, frequently over minefields of talus or fallen trees.  Okay, a few of our areas do have trails, though many of those turn straight to mud once it's above freezing.  And since my best bouldering happens when it's below freezing, I spend a lot of time running, jumping, and otherwise flailing about to keep my core temperature up so I can feel my fingers well enough to climb, again something that becomes difficult in thin shoes.  Add in the Rebels' water repellant upper, and finally I feel like I have shoes that can truly take me anywhere I want them to.

                                                           Photo: Mark Profeta
With dry weather in short supply recently, I tried climbing in the Rebels at the gym before I managed to get them outside.  I was amazed at how well they performed, and I think what impressed me most was how good they felt on one of the volume climbs.  I had already done in my favorite smearing shoes (oversized X1s), and when I went back to try it in my Rebels, I was shocked to find that they felt every bit as secure.  I also took them over to the system board (set at vertical) and they were able to handle even the worst of the footholds.  On top of smearing well, the sole of the Rebels comes straight down instead of at an angle, preventing the rubber from rolling away on small edges.

                                                             Photo: Mark Profeta
I've only gotten them out on rock once so far, on a small riverside boulder near home.  While I won't say they felt as precise as the Kronos I eventually put on, the Rebels made easy work of an old circuit that I hadn't climbed in years.  The boulder I was on didn't have many edges, but as with the volumes at the gym, I felt like I could smear on anything.  Even the shallow dish/pockets felt totally solid.  So yeah, if I ended up climbing somewhere and didn't have my actual climbing shoes with me (as if there aren't at least five pairs in my car), I could still have a totally enjoyable day just wearing these.

                                                            Photo: Pennie Close
I feel like even if Evolv did nothing else new this year, the Rebel alone already has their 2019 going strong.  But that's entirely hypothetical, since they've already updated the Kronos and Kira, and their highly anticipated Phantom is still to come.  Yeah, it's gonna be a good year.

                                                                                           Photo: Pennie Close

*Note: Originally posted 3/10/19, and updated 3/17/19.