Saturday, June 8, 2013

Sykesville sessions (and a day at Coopers)

It's the last weekend of what is probably the best school year I can remember.  While I'll be sad to be away from my students, I was excited when I looked at the calendar and realized just two weeks from now I'll be in Colorado.  Spring has flown by!

A couple weeks back Emily and I went out to West Virginia for a fun day at Coopers and her first trip to Pies & Pints, which now has a Morgantown location.  We met up with a few friends out there, and ran into several others, but mostly stuck to the slabs in the Moby and Fiddle areas.

Since we forgot to grab the guidebook from the car, and pretty much every inch of the slabs is climbable, we spent several hours just climbing everything that looked good.  It was interesting to look in the book later and see which of the climbs we did were "official," especially since some of my favorites from the day weren't even listed.  I was also happy to find out that one of my onsights was Stick With It, a problem I'd been wanting to try anyway.

We also spent some time down around the Tomb Raider area, and I finished the day on a variation of Pocket Sock that started on a rail at the base of the boulder and climbed up into the left finish.  I'd looked at it once before and didn't think it would go, but then saw a mono that was good enough to set up a bump to the bigger pockets.

So why the obsession with slab on this trip?  Partly because it's some of my favorite climbing, but also because of a more local boulder that's been on my mind.

On a Friday afternoon about a month ago, I had just resigned myself to bouldering at the gym when I got a text from Jon Alexander saying he was heading out to the Nest in Sykesville.  Having not been there since last summer, I jumped at the chance to revisit it.

The most obvious line on the main slab, called Crescent Moons or Central Dihedral by various climbers who've visited the area, starts to the left and follows good flakes up and right to an easy but sometimes heady topout.  I'd wondered before whether it would be possible to climb directly up to last flake instead of traversing in, and that day I was excited to find that there was just enough there to make it possible.

An easy walk up the ramp leads to a good right sidepull, with a small crimp out left that's just good enough for working your feet up a delicate sequence of crystals and getting within bumping range of another crimp just below the flake.  The bump itself isn't hard, but the ramp below and the crack to the right make the fall scary.  I probably could have finished it that first day had I committed to the move.

In hindsight, I'm glad I didn't.  For one thing it's meant lots of time climbing with my friend and Sykesville local John Brunson, who's shown me several out of the way gems that I otherwise wouldn't have seen.  One of these, Excalibur, is a great little layback/compression line that John Kelbel's site had only listed as "9' Boulder."  I didn't climb it the day John B showed it to me, but ended up making a spontaneous trip out the next day with Dan and sending it from a sit on the left arete.

It's really a nice quality problem for something so small, though I did get a good reminder about the danger of slapping blindly at aretes.

On our way back to the car we ran into Leigh Thompson, another Sykesville local and frequent visitor to the Nest, who showed us another fun boulder a couple miles downriver before it rained.  Fortunately it didn't require much use of my palm!

A few days later I went back to work on the slab with John, and once again chickened out.  It was my second day of trying a different foot sequence than I had originally used, keeping my right foot on the first crystal and high stepping with my left to another that I had cleaned off.  I was sure it was going to go that day, but couldn't bring myself to commit.

We salvaged the day just down the road at the Dragon Scales boulder, where John showed me a solid little lip traverse called Tattooed and Weeded.  I also did problems on both aretes, one of which used a really silly pull up and spin move to get established.

We finished out the day making several attempts at a line in the center of the little overhang, starting on underclings and throwing out left to the arete.  Much more dynamic than my usual style of climbing, but I eventually managed to stick it before we had to head out.

Tuesday, I gave in and brought a rope out to the slab with me.  After rapping down to spend ten minutes brushing an intermediate crimp that had been too thickly covered in lichen to use, I took a shot at the crux on toprope.  Realizing my foot sequence wasn't going to work, I switched back to the way I had originally attempted the problem, and stuck the move on the first go.  And the second.  And the third.  And just when I was feeling confident enough to try it without the rope, I missed.  Fortunately, by going back to the old sequence, I was almost guaranteed to barndoor off right if I didn't stick the hold.  I say fortunately because that meant we could more accurately predict the fall direction, and while still potentially painful, it was less likely to result in breaks or sprains than I had initially feared.

John arrived, Dan went back to work, and after a couple more attempts to dial it in we pulled the rope and I soon found myself on top.

I know I've said this before, but the satisfaction I get from climbing something that scares me is far greater than when I simply climb something hard.  This is also three scary problems in a row now where my last thought before leaving the ground has been that my friends on the ground have me.  It's a great feeling to have friends that I can trust so completely.

As always, if anyone reading this has climbed any of these lines or knows of ascents earlier than ours, I would love to hear from you and be able to call the problems by their proper names.  While being the first to do something can sometimes be exciting, it's also nice to be just a link in the chain of our shared history as climbers.  Whatever the history of these problems though, I love having them so close to home and accessible.  Go get 'em before it gets too much hotter!

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