Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Crimps and Chaos at NWB

For a place that's usually my winter hangout, I somehow managed to skip five of the best months at Northwest Branch before getting back there yesterday for some much needed rock therapy.  Not that I did a whole lot aside from hanging out, but just being out next to the river with friends was apparently exactly what I needed.

Meeting up with Charlie, Mark, Harris (yes, he climbed without a harness), John, and Dana, we started off on Crimptastic at my request, though a couple test pulls were all it took to convince me that my finger wasn't ready for it yet.  I moved over to The Business, hoping to make quick work of it after figuring out a really easy sequence for me last year, and with the benefit of the last couple months of strength training for that first move.  No idea what that sequence was, but with Charlie wanting to get on Chaos Roof, I didn't really feel like wasting time trying to figure it out again.

Mark on Crimptastic

Crossing back over the river, I made a quick stop at Crimps to see how the first move felt on my finger, then joined the others at Chaos Roof.  Charlie worked it for a while along with Mark and Harris, and they almost made it look doable enough to get me off my butt.  Almost.

Charlie on Chaos Roof 
Mark on Chaos Roof
Harris on Chaos Roof

After a few really close attempts, Charlie managed to stick the dyno with one of the most exciting swings I've ever seen.  Here's the video, complete with my Gratuitous Cameraman Scream.



On the way out I stopped at Crimps just so I could actually climb something, and I was at least happy that the first move felt so static even with a recovering finger.  Crazy how I used to look at it and wonder if I'd ever be strong enough to do it.  Also a good reminder to myself to remember the progress I've made, which is easy to forget when surrounding myself with so many strong people.  Funny, Chaos Roof always looked near impossible to me until yesterday.  Maybe I should do something about that.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sourland Smackdown 2015

As often as the weather takes a turn for the worse, I couldn't have asked for much better at yesterday's Sourland Smackdown bouldering comp in New Jersey.  Yes it was a little warm for diabase bouldering, but after the forecast a week ago showing rain yesterday as a near certainty, I was so excited about dry sunny rock that I didn't mind a little extra heat.

I've been wanting to get back to the Sourlands ever since Chris Irwin and I were there for the Smackdown two years ago, so when they announced the date this year and Chris decided to put together a Maryland team for it, I was all over the idea.  It was actually a good excuse to log a bunch of diabase time over the last couple weeks, since it's a style I still have a lot to learn about.  Okay, so a couple of those trips were just excuses to have dinner at the Troeg's brewery afterward, but I'm a firm believer in recovery meals being a key part of any training program.

Altogether we had about ten climbers representing Team MD yesterday, and it was by far the most fun I've ever had at a comp.  I was especially happy since my main goal going into the day was not to hurt my finger that's been bothering me all year, and it actually ended up being the most pain free day of climbing I've had in a long time.

                                                                                          Photo: John Brunson
I'll admit I was a little disappointed that I was totally shut down by the offwidth climb that had gone so easily for me last time, but otherwise it was one of the more solid days of climbing I've had.  Somehow I walked away with a 3rd place finish, with Charlie Garcia just ahead of me for 2nd.  There's no way that would have happened if I'd been there by myself.  Between a strong group of friends to keep me motivated, and my favorite spotter John Brunson giving me the confidence to make a couple moves that scared the crap out of me, it was definitely a team accomplishment.  John was also climbing harder than I've ever seen him, in between his demonstrations of spotting mastery.

                                                             Photo: Chris Irwin
                                                             Photo: Chris Irwin
                                                                                        Photo: John Brunson
Team MD's biggest victory of the day came with Dana Bleiberg's first place female finish, especially since she took down most of the male field in the process.  Even more impressively, she pulled it off after showing up three hours late!


A huge thanks to everyone who organized and ran the event, especially to the volunteers at the boulders helping us navigate and make sense of things.  Can't wait to get back up there!

Team MD!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Gunks snowflakes

Sometimes we hold on to things long past the point when they've outlived their usefulness and, in realizing this, we owe it to ourselves to let go of the past and move forward in a more productive direction.  Robin's Bouldering Page has been a big part of my life over the past few years.  For a long time it was, as the name suggested, a page about me bouldering.  In looking back at recent posts however, I've noticed a clear trend of injuries and laziness relegating me to the role of chronicling others' bouldering exploits, especially those of my esteemed friend Charlie Garcia.  My trip to the Gunks with Charlie this past weekend only solidified this realization, and so effective at midnight, I'll be changing the name of this blog to more accurately reflect its current direction.  At the moment I'm leaning toward something like Robin's Watching Charlie Warm Up On His Bouldering Projects Page, but that might be a little long.  I have until midnight to think about it in any case.  I do promise to include the same amount of random food photos, such as the incredible pork belly tacos I had Saturday night at Mexicali Blue.


April Fools!  Well, at least about the name change.  I was totally serious about continuing to include gratuitous food photos, especially since my meals were easily the most successful part of the trip for me.

With a forecast high of around 37 degrees, Charlie and I opted for an early start Saturday morning to get us to the Gunks just as temps were getting manageable.  As it turned out, we got there just as the "possible" snow showers had reached their heaviest point.  Looking at how wet the roads were, and thinking the rocks wouldn't be much better, we took cover in Bacchus until the worst had passed.


As the snow died down, we decided to take our chances with the rocks.  The road became drier and drier as we approached, and we were happy to find most of the boulders dry, even if some of the approaches made me question my choice of a spring break destination.


After a lot of walking around, we finally settled on the Boxcar area, planning to warm up on the traverse before climbing the arete that we both had our sights on.  I took a short run to get my core temperature up, but probably should have done something to get my fingers moving a little more first, as my left middle finger soon made it clear that I wasn't going to get much climbing done.  Charlie made quick sends of Boxcar Arete and The Hump before we headed down for some good food and the warm hotel room that we had reserved in anticipation of the night's 20 degree low.


Sunday actually broke well into the 40s, and after meeting up unexpectedly with Andrew Chao and some of this friends, we almost forgot about the previous day's relative lack of productivity.

My continued ligament irritation left me unable to do much aside from some easy scrambling around, but Charlie managed a quick send of the tricky Lynn Hill Traverse.


He made even shorter work of the various Buddha variations, putting down Enlightened Buddha on what I think was his first attempt of the day.




We spent a little time on the only boulder that shut him down that day, but he somehow still had the energy for a second try send of Jackson Pollock on the way out.  I also shoed up for Boulder of the Gods in the interest of topping out at least one boulder to make the 5 hour drive worth it, though I made a point of grabbing the sides so that it didn't technically count as a send and blow my streak.

For my first time bouldering at the Gunks, or at least standing around while others did, I can definitely see why people like some of the boulders so much.  The are a few I'm looking forward to coming back to with a healthy finger for sure.  Still, this trip showed me that the Gunks will always be more of a trad destination for me, at least based on the amount of time I spent staring up past the boulders and jealous of the sounds of gear rattling high above.  Guess I probably shouldn't admit that on a bouldering blog though.  Forget I said anything.  Pebbles for life!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Rockfest and Coopers Rock climb-a-thon 2015

Last summer the Coopers Rock Climbing Guides put on a fantastic event with their 3rd annual Coopers Rock Climb-a-thon, and I was extra excited to hear that they'll be doing it again this year on June 28th, since the Mid Atlantic Climbers will be holding their annual Rockfest event at Coopers Rock that same weekend.  Two of my favorite events of the year, and I don't even have to move my tent!

For anyone unfamiliar with these events, Rockfest is the biggest event on the MAC calendar, giving climbers the opportunity to give back to one of their favorite climbing areas with a variety of projects. Work typically includes trail maintenance, trash cleanup, graffiti removal, or whatever other tasks the park requests, with plenty of time leftover afterward for climbing and making new friends over food and drink provided by local businesses.  If you haven't been, I can't recommend it highly enough.



The Climb-a-thon, which I only learned about a couple of weeks beforehand last year, turned out to be equally exciting.  Participants compete with each other for vertical feet climbed (with difficulty factored in) on the many toprope routes that Coopers Rock has to offer, but what I like best about the event is that the fundraising remains the main focus.  Participants are encouraged to raise money in advance of the event, and all donations go to Paradox Sports to support their amazing work in the area of adaptive climbing and other activities.  As a special ed teacher, I appreciate the process of adapting activities to individual needs and capabilities, and am continually blown away by what Paradox is able to help people accomplish.

Unfortunately I pulled a tendon in my foot a few days before the event last year, and was unable to climb as a result.  That turned out okay though, with my mom taking my place and finishing as the top female climber, and Chris pulling off the overall win.


Barring any unforeseen injuries, I can't wait to get out and actually get to climb this time.  The routes looked so fun last year, and with the multi-hour traversing sessions I've been fitting in, I should be able to make the most of my time.  I'm even more excited to have eight times longer to raise money for Paradox than I did last time around.  Speaking of which...

Here's the link to my fundraising page.

If you have a few extra dollars sitting around, especially if you're not going to the Climb-a-thon yourself, please consider helping me support the fantastic work that Paradox does to give everyone a place in our climbing community.  In return, I promise to climb my butt off and earn every dollar that comes my way!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Walking the line



It's no secret that there's a fine line between training and over-training, but if there's a way to stay away from that line I haven't found it yet.

Between the incessant snow and a tweaked lower back last time I was at Bushwhack, I've climbed outside exactly once this year.  When I found out Emily was going away for eight weeks, I was sure that climbing every chance I got would be the best way to maintain my mental wellbeing.  What I wasn't counting on was for the pain in my middle finger, probably the product of too many system board sessions, to keep me from climbing for the first two weeks.

In the meantime I found other ways to amuse myself... running, swimming, doing core and pulling workouts on my rock rings, sure that I'd come back to climbing even stronger than I'd left.  A couple days ago I actually made it into the gym for a pain-free traversing session, and while I didn't want to risk anything remotely dynamic, my ability to move through positions statically felt more controlled than ever.

Yesterday I woke up at 4:30 after a bad dream, gave up on getting back to sleep around 5:15, and by 6:15 decided I might as well get in a run on my treadmill before work.  Not surprisingly, when I got out of work later I was too tired for the swim I had planned, and with temperatures back in the high 30s for a change I decided on a walk around the lake instead.

Halfway in, I felt a familiar spasm in the middle of my left foot, the same feeling that I had ignored this past summer before the tendon pulled and left me unable to climb for a month.  Okay, so maybe I should stay away from the treadmill for a few days, which is especially frustrating since work is closed because of the snow.  Again.

One thing I've learned more and more is that I have to make rules for myself, especially when nobody else is around to be the voice of reason.  Some rules, such as "point the treadmill away from the glass cabinets when running fast," I've had the foresight to create before they became necessary.  Others, like "don't leave the box of wine on the coffee table to make refilling easier," have been the product of next-day reflection.

Not that I have it all figured out yet, but I've also developed a set of rules for myself specific to climbing/training, which are gradually helping me to progress more effectively and stop repeating the same cycles of injury.  Here's the ever-growing list:

1)  Change it up.  Most of my injuries seem to come not from any single moment, but from repetitive stress, and they usually manifest as a slight nagging pain that I choose to ignore until it's too late.  For climbing this means trying to have a balance of bouldering, ropes, and traversing.  For cardio, it means a variety of activities and intensities, like my current rule of limiting myself to one long run, one fast run, and one interval session per week.

2)  If I bring water, drink it all.  Climbing in Maryland can be a sweaty experience.  During the prime bouldering temperatures of winter, our dry clothes can make it easy for us to forget that we're getting dehydrated until we find our energy sapped and our bodies more likely to get injured.  I always make it a point now to drink everything I bring, especially during the winter when a thermos of warm water has the added benefit of keeping my core temperature up.

3)  If it's outside it's not going anywhere.  I'm sure we've all had those climbs that we can't stay away from.  I've certainly gotten focused on a boulder to the point that I worry about losing other skills as I concentrate only on a certain set of moves, and have at times gotten so focused on finishing it that I don't listen to my body hurting (again, repetitive stress) until it's too late.  It's hard to step outside of the moment, but by reminding myself that the boulder is going to be around much longer than me, I can usually come back when I'm stronger and finish it with far less frustration.  On a related note...

4)  If it's inside, it's not worth it.  I'm not saying that indoor climbing in itself isn't worth doing.  In fact, I love having such a good gym ten minutes away, and I'd put our setters up against any out there.  What I'm saying is that there's nothing they can set that will make me risk hurting myself to the point that I can't get outside and climb.

5)  Open hand.  I'm sure I'm in the majority when I say that as soon as I learned about using a closed grip on crimps, I did it all the time, and within a couple months had the finger pain to show for it.  One of the best things I've ever done for myself was to focus on climbing openhanded unless I absolutely had to do otherwise.  Not that finger injuries are nonexistent for me now, but they're definitely a rarity that tend to be caused from twisting (finger cracks) or hyperextension.  As an added bonus, keeping my hands open gives me an extra three inches of reach, and lets me find thumb catches to make almost any hold multi-directional.

6)  Find my own way up.  I love the motivation that comes from climbing with so many strong people, but it can sometimes be a disadvantage too.  Faced with a difficult move, I often make the mistake of watching how the strongest in the group does it, ignoring differences in body type and climbing style.  By looking for positions that are most suitable for me, I've found that many climbs feel way easier than their grade, even in areas that are supposedly sandbagged.

7)  Don't touch it unless I'm going to finish it.  Expectation of failure is something I constantly struggle with, and I've lost track of how many times I've stuck a crux move only to find my hand reflexively letting go, or my feet already lowering in anticipation of falling.  By the time I talk myself into holding on at all costs, I no longer have the energy to do so.  When climbing close to my limit, I need to make every attempt count and go into it fully expecting to reach the top.  I think of the time last year when Charlie Garcia finished the hardest boulder problem I've ever put up on his second attempt, and when I asked him about making such quick work of it, he said "I knew I could make the move, so I did."  Sometimes the simplest approach is the best.

8)  Don't save it for later if I can finish it now.  Sometimes that expectation of failure makes me go out intending to work on a problem rather than actually finishing it, and giving up when it's within reach.  Not too big a deal in the local gym, but frustrating when the boulder has a twenty minute approach, or is in a place I may never make it back to again.  Why put myself through the trouble of finding a time go back out later and finish something that I could just knock out now?

9)  Stop before the "last try."  Even with a positive approach, some days it's just not meant to happen.  It's one thing to have a controlled pace, for example knowing that I have ten minutes left at a boulder and can probably get in two more good attempts with sufficient rest in between.  It's another thing to throw myself at something until I'm exhausted, and then insist on one final sloppy attempt that ends up leaving me injured.  Again, it's not going anywhere.

10) Training OR happy hour.  Thursday, one of my regular climbing days, also happens to be Pint Night at one of my favorite bars.  The timing is perfect too, since I get out of work early enough to beat the crowd and have a few 5 oz samples, and then get to the gym before it gets crowded.  I'm pretty sure my hardest lead climb ever was on one of those days, when I'd had just enough to shut down the voices that usually scared me away.  So what's the downside?  Well, if I just want to get in and climb things, that's still easy enough.  Doing it with the level of precision that I expect from myself is a little harder, and training bad habits is probably worse than not training at all.  Besides, holding a cold glass is probably a lot more beneficial to sore fingers than to fresh ones.


Of course, all of this time not climbing has meant more time on the internet watching and reading about it.  I've been especially excited to see the new climbing/training site from Maryland ex-pat Will Anglin, and have been finding a bunch of useful stuff compiled on TrainingBeta.  Speaking of training, it looks like the snow has stopped out there, and I've been sitting about as long as I can handle for one morning.  Time to move!