Saturday, December 31, 2011

Climbing Local- Winter break at Bushwhack

In years past, I've generally looked forward to winter break as a time to fly somewhere warm, despite last year's trip to Arizona turning out to be even more wintery than what I left behind.  This year, in the absence of flights to deserts and islands, I decided it would be the perfect time for a mid-distance road trip.  Since going south seemed to make the most sense, I thought Horse Pens 40 would be the best bet, given its perfect combination of incredible sloper-filled bouldering, convenient camping, and delicious hot food at the on-site restaurant.  Stone Fort and Rocktown were also in the running, since I've never been to either, and both are a little to far to make a decent weekend trip.

Then about a week before break started, it occurred to me that it would also be a perfect opportunity to spend more time on local boulders that are normally out of range on winter weekdays.  A local climbing vacation of sorts.  I'll go ahead and say now that I don't think Maryland will ever be a bouldering destination, nor would I really want it to be.  While we have many high quality boulders, our areas are simply too small to handle the amount of traffic seen at the more popular places in WV or PA.  But I also think that what we have is largely underappreciated even by locals.  For a state that produces so many strong climbers in its top-quality gyms, it seems that most of them either move away to areas with bigger rocks, or prefer to drive the extra time to spend their weekends at areas like Coopers or Gretna.  And it's hard to blame them, considering those areas have both more rock and a unique style of bouldering that's hard to pass up, which I fully admit I'm looking forward to joining them for sometime soon.  But still I look at some of our own boulders and would love to see their full potential realized.  So, in the interest of practicing what I preach, I bailed on my trip south in favor of making daily trips out to Bushwhack whenever weather permitted.

After spending Christmas in Ohio, Emily and I stopped at Bushwhack on the way back home Monday, meeting up with Jon Alexander, Rob Brockett, and a couple of their friends.  Although we only had a couple hours, the weather was wonderfully warm, and it was great to get Jon out there before he headed off to Thailand for his latest photo project.  After a few runs on That's Not a WoodpeckerSharp Tooth, and Gollum's Pancake, we went to the Tourette's boulder and climbed Rise and Shine, an easy but fun line that starts low on a bulge to the left and traverses right up the rail to join Tourette's Razor.  We then caught the last of the sun's light on Rattleflake Roof before calling it a day.

Tuesday, rain.  Running with the theme of local vacation, I decided to be touristy and head down to DC.  After grabbing some delicious Indian food and visiting Emily's new office, I spent several hours at the National Museum of American History before hopping back on the metro and being treated to a gorgeous sunset rainbow as the rain began to clear.

Wednesday I spent a few comfortable hours on the couch before meeting up with my friend Luke Anderson, one of my Yosemite partners and recent winner of Rock and Ice's 2011 photo contest.  Despite Luke's decision to wear shorts, it was a stupidly cold day!  Wanting to stick as much as possible to big open hands, we did several variations on Rattleflake Roof and then headed over to check out Stunk, a beautiful compression line opened a week earlier by Brian Spiering.

Thursday morning I got back out with Vincent Faires and Gerrit Spieker.  Continuing what seems to be the new trend, we started off on Rattleflake Roof...

before jumping on Finishing the Paperwork, another of Brian's fun compression lines located on the feature just left of the immaculate Spellbound crack.

                                                             Photo: Gerrit Spieker
And then it started to snow.  It was beautiful as the flakes started to fall, but my initial giddiness was soon tempered by the realization that it was actually starting to stick.

At first keeping hope that we could still climb, we went up to the Tourette's boulder to try a line on the far left end, but quickly realized that snowy slopers and wet shoes weren't a very intelligent combination.  Packing up our now white crashpads, we were on our way back to the cars when Vince asked if we could go check out a cave near Stunk that had caught his attention earlier.  We arrived to find the cave completely dry, and pleasantly warm in the bargain.  Once again sheltered and finding still climbable rock, the snow falling outside provided a gorgeous backdrop to what became my favorite part of the day.

Starting deep in the cave on a solid right hand jam, we attempted to follow a line that traversed left across a rail to a crystally crack, finishing straight up on jugs through the gap.

                                                             Photo: Vincent Faires

                                                                                             Photo: Vincent Faires
After a few attempts, Vince linked the pieces and Sulfur Mine was born.

A few attempts later, I followed suit.  A harder finish is also possible, continuing left on small crimps from the crystally crack, though the higher crimps had unfortunately gotten enough snow to prevent us from attempting it that day.  Satisfied for the time being, we emerged from the cave and enjoyed the views of the snowy rocks as we packed up.

Eventually making our way back to the warmth of our cars, I knew that the cold night temperatures would keep the snow on the boulders through the next morning, when the forecast warmth would only serve to leave the rock too wet to climb.  Although a bit disappointed about having to cancel my final day out there, I still had a great week with some of my best Bushwhack memories to date.  And I also had the perfect excuse to drive down to Rockville to play in the newly expanded Earth Treks, something that otherwise I might not have done for weeks.  All in all, an incredible vacation.

Happy New Year!

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