Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Roadside fun

Spring is here!  In some ways, not a lot has changed for me these past few months.  We're still mostly staying at home, and I still haven't been to the gym in over a year.  Part of that caution, though, was in preparation for one thing that actually did change, since little girl number two joined us in mid-February.  It's been a busy month of figuring out new patterns, and while my climbing hasn't been as adventurous, it's been just as fun.  Rather than long walks through the woods (okay, I still sneak in a couple of those), climbing days have more frequently meant taking the girls to a relatively roadside boulder, letting everyone play around for a couple hours, and then having a picnic afterward.  Not a bad place to be.  

For a couple weeks we were going to a spot downhill from Bushwhack, within sight of the road.  I don't know what any of it is, but there were some fun short slabs and one boulder with a short overhang on the downhill side.  While I was initially drawn to the mantle up the center, my favorite line was bumping out to the right arete and then compressing until I could get my feet over the lip to walk up the slab.

This week we've been visiting the Westview parking boulders at Sugarloaf, which I hadn't climbed for years.  The slab there is as much fun to play on as I remembered, though I'd forgotten just how much I enjoyed the Secondhand Smoke arete.  If I had to name the best V2 I'd climbed, this thing would easily be in the top few.

Yesterday I got on something that I don't remember doing before, starting to the left as for Third Degree Burn, but finishing more or less straight up instead of traversing right to the arete.  

As my paternity leave is wrapping up, our weekday climbing/picnic sessions will be on hold until summer, but I'm hoping to get in some good afternoons at Northwest Branch.  Back in January I went down there and checked out the little boulder by the river behind Hobo Cave, and I can't believe it doesn't get way more traffic.  The right arete was fun, and the left slab exit was okay, but going from the low crimp rail straight out to the point was one of the better lines I've climbed at NWB, with solid holds and really fun movement all the way.

Speaking of Northwest Branch, Dana and I put together a guide for Gunks Apps, which we plan to keep updating.  While a lot of it is information that you can find elsewhere, we're hoping some people will find it useful.  If you check it out and notice any mistakes (there have been several), let us know and we'll fix them in future updates.

Until next time! 

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Out with the old, and... in with the old?

New Years Eve!  I'm sure everything will be magically different once it's officially 2021, right?  As optimistic as I'd like to be, I'm bracing myself for more of the same, and at least from a climbing standpoint I guess that's not entirely a bad thing.

I still haven't ventured into the gym since sometime in early March, and probably won't for a while still.  I'm still climbing more on my deck than anywhere else, but for the past couple months I've gotten back to getting out bouldering at least once a week most of the time.  Mostly local, and to places where I'm not likely to be around other people if I can help it, but at least it's consistent.  While I haven't really climbed much that I haven't already climbed before, it's been fun having the chance to revisit some old favorites.  It's also been interesting to get out when my strength is shifted more to overhung compression than the thin slab I spent so long gravitating toward.

Who knows where my climbing will be in a few weeks, a few months, or a year from now?  Honestly I'm not all that worried about it.  With so much changing so fast, I find myself in a position where I don't take it as much for granted as I now realize I did, and aside from the fact that I really miss climbing with my friends as much as I used to, I think I'm enjoying being out on the rocks more than I have in a long time.

Wishing everyone a safe and healthy new year!

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.