Monday, May 25, 2020

As local as it gets

Normally this is about the time of year when I'd be crossing my fingers for a few more random cold climbing days, and heading out to those few places that aren't yet completely engulfed in poison ivy and deer ticks.  If I had somehow made it through the winter and prime bouldering conditions uninjured, I would probably be struggling to adjust back to the time of year when getting out climbing is more about just being outside than about actually expecting myself to climb well.  Sometimes that actually works in my favor.  Sometimes I go out on a summer day with absolutely no expectations other than just to climb on something other than plastic or wooden holds, and I surprise myself with how well I can still climb in swampy conditions.  Days like that are made even better with the realization that conditions are only going to get better once things cool down again.

These days, all of my climbing is outside, and I've actually been getting out to climb three days a week.  Sort of.

After ten weeks of rarely leaving my house, of not going more than five miles from home, and not moving my car more than four or five times, I feel like I should be itching to get back out on the rocks.  Oh I miss it for sure, but with no idea how things are going to continue to play out, I also feel like it's not hurting me to wait a while longer.

And maybe this is just wishful thinking, but in the meantime, I feel like I'm getting stronger.  I feel like I'm becoming a better climber.  Yeah, that sounds a bit strange from someone who only ever climbs the side of his deck anymore.  The stronger part isn't really a surprise though, since I have glassy plastic for hands and bicycles or heel hooks for feet.  But better?  Well, as time went passed and I found new ways of climbing the same surface to keep it interesting, I initially focused on harder and harder movements.  Most of the time those movements gradually felt easier as I got stronger, but every once in a while something would happen to make a strenuous movement suddenly feel almost effortless.  And somehow the longer I do this, the more frequently those "aha" moments arrive.  Maybe that's just because I've adjusted to the larger mechanics and can now focus on the details, but I also feel like in giving myself something to climb that absolutely doesn't matter, where there isn't even any concrete "success" that I can work toward, I more fully free myself up to learn and enjoy the process.

So yes, I miss climbing rocks.  And yes, I have boulders that I think about frequently, looking forward to the day when I can see whether I've gained as much strength and knowledge as I feel like I have.  But I'm in no rush.  For now, I can walk five feet out the door and have a place to climb that challenges me, and have it all to myself under the shade of 80 foot trees.  Not a bad place to be.

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!