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!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Gretna mini-spring

With a forecast in the mid-50s too hard to pass up, Charlie and Michael and I got an early start yesterday for a fun day at Gretna.  While they warmed up, I dropped a rope to clean the slab left of Scarlet Lady that I'd been working, and was happy to find several small edges buried under the bits of moss at the top.

Charlie working the slab
Michael finished it in about three tries, and Charlie got it pretty quickly after.  I, on the other hand, chickened out at the top and crossed into the lip on my left for an early exit.  Next time.

After dropping my rope back at the car, I joined them at the 45 area where they were working on Exhibit A.  I decided to save my energy, but Michael and Charlie walked away with back to back sends.

After a bit of exploring, we dropped pads at Shamoo, which the guys worked for a while without much luck.  I decided to start working Heaven, and was surprised how possible it felt even with the starting footholds continually seeping water.  Looking forward to trying it when I don't have to spend more time drying the rock than climbing it.

                                                                                                            Photo: Michael Kelliher
                                                                                                            Photo: Michael Kelliher

We went down to the Highball boulder for a bit, where Charlie came pretty close on The Squeak, and then hit Adjuster on our way back to the car.  Michael got it, and I walked away empty handed again, even after getting a few extra tries with the discovery that iPhones are brighter than our headlamps.  Wish I had topped that thing out the first time I was up there!

Looks like rain today, but my skin could use a rest anyway.  Still a week left of vacation though, so I'm sure I'll be getting out for more fun soon.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Another Friday at Bushwhack

After a month away from rock, I was excited for a couple days of warm weather, and a chance to get out to Bushwhack for the first time in a while.  I was even more excited to bring Michael Kelliher with me, back in the area after a few years of living in CO.  He had visited Bushwhack with me once in December three years ago, but since that was before most of the good boulders had been done there, he had a lot to catch up on.

I put him on Tauntaun Sleeping Bag to warm up, and he got it second go after barely missing it the first time.

Next we went up to Constructive Winter, which he also got second try, though we skipped the topout due to the three large vultures sitting on the descent.  Charlie joined us there, and since he had wanted to take a shot at Dead Soul, we headed over to the Tourette's boulder.  Unfortunately that was wet, but Michael onsighted the double toehook start to Tourette's Razor, and I was happy to find that the stretching I've done in the past couple months finally got me flexible enough to do it too.

Wanting to put in some time on one of my new projects, which even Charlie hadn't seen yet, we went down the hill to this...

It's really only a few moves, but they're long and balancy moves on glassy holds.  Originally thinking we had to match the bad sloper and throw for a slot straight up, things changed when Charlie found a crimp out left that would still be a bit low percentage, but would at least save us a step or two.  Eventually Michael stuck it and the following move to the lip, and even though Charlie and I didn't follow up with sends of our own, it was really exciting to see it go down.

Charlie had to head out after that, but Michael wanted to try Stink, Stank, Stunk on the way out, and he finished it faster than I've ever seen (five tries I think), and then made quick work of You're Doing it Wrong. Good thing we still have so much more rock to get him on.

Sunny and in the 50s again tomorrow, and planning to get an early start for Gretna.  I love winter break in MD!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ropes in Vegas

Vegas is an odd place.

Friendly trees...

Good beer in plastic cups to go...

Inside looks like outside...

Outside looks like inside...

And mountains always at the edge of sight to remind us that reality still exists...

This is the seventh year that Emily and I have joined her dad on the Strip for Thanksgiving, trading hot turkey and football on the couch for a few days of good drinks, awesome food, and the best people watching we can find outside of the Renaissance Festival.

As usual, rather than heading straight to the Strip, we rented a car and got in a few hours surrounded by the surreal formations of Red Rocks.

Usually we just rent a crash pad and head out for a few hours of bouldering, during which I always have my sights set a little too high, and fail miserably on whatever project I've convinced myself is going to happen. This time we decided to bring a rope out for a change of pace.  True it would mean an extra bag through the airport, but the idea of getting in some easy mileage seemed way more appealing than my usual flailing five feet off the ground.  And since Emily had never done any real multi pitch, hearing there was a 3 pitch 5.9 sport route called Big Bad Wolf sealed it.

Good holds on a vertical face for the first pitch.

Gorgeous slab for the second.

More slab and a vertical finish for the third.  All with bolts seemingly every five feet and good chain anchors at the top of every pitch.  Definitely more relaxing than anything we had done out there before.  At least until Emily joined me at the top of the second pitch and I could hear her knee crackling from ten feet away.

She thought we could still make it to the top.  As amazing as the third pitch looked, pushing her knee seemed like a terrible idea considering we still had a good scramble to get back to the trail, so we called down to the party below us to let them know we'd be rapping down.

Going into the day, my only real concern was that Emily hadn't rappelled in a couple years, but fortunately that came back to her pretty quickly and she was soon clipped into the first set of chains.  Where she promptly dropped her belay device.

There was a moment of us all watching it slide in slow motion down the remaining slab, and I think I even managed to briefly catch it with my foot.  As it turned the corner into the vertical, Emily had the presence of mind to yell "ROCK!" to the parties gathered below, as the ATC rocketed down to glance sharply off a rock and find a comfortable rest under a bush.  I have to admit I was a little jealous that it had gotten down so soon.

About three years ago, I used to go to Ilchester and set an anchor just to spend a couple hours ascending and rappelling using every technique I knew, even making it a point to switch devices/techniques while still hanging rather than doing so from the safety of a good stance.  So with a full pitch of Big Bad Wolf below us, at least I knew there were options.

We pulled the rope out of the anchors above us, gradually to avoid hitting the climber who was now on the most delicate part of the second pitch.  The good news was we didn't hit him.  Unfortunately, our gentle pulling meant the rope didn't come down as diagonally as we needed it to, and the end of it was now lodged behind a flake about 25 feet up.

When no amount of pulling and flipping would dislodge it, the guy who was belaying next to us offered to traverse over and free it on his way up the second pitch, so I clipped Emily into the rope with my ATC and looked around to see what I had for getting myself down.  Fortunately when getting ready back at the car, my paranoia had overcome any need to travel light and fast, and I now had just enough locking carabiners to build a carabiner brake to rappel on.

By this point, our companion on the ledge had gotten up and freed our rope, which promptly hit the climber below us in the head on the way to the ground.  After an appropriate round of apologies, my improvised rappel device had me safely to the ground, and Emily soon joined me to gather our belongings (including her wayward ATC) and pick our way back to the trail.

Climbs like this remind me how glad I am to have backup plans, and backups to the backups.  The also remind me how glad I am that climbers are generally so supportive of each other.  Whether I'm the one helping or being helped, there's always been a common understanding that this kind of stuff happens to all of us, and if any of them went home later and laughed about our train wreck of a climb, they at least had the decency to keep it quiet until we were safely back at the cars.

We went out there to spend a day doing some fun easy climbing on some pretty rock, and to give Emily her first real multi pitch.  We did some fun easy climbing.  The rock was pretty.  True we only finished the first two pitches instead of all three, but two is still multi pitch, and I have to say I was glad for the opportunity to pull out some skills that I never thought I'd have to actually use.  And to top it all off, we still had three nights on the Strip ahead of us.  It was a great day.