Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Gear Review: Black Diamond Equipment Camalot C3

Occasionally, I have been known to set off on trad climbs with moves near my limit and protection somewhere between dubious and dicey, leaving my climbing partners sweating and my belayers with sinking feelings in their guts.  (Just ask my wife!). On these climbs, it is essential that when I do have the opportunity to place protection, I have absolute faith in it.  For these endeavors, I never leave the ground without a healthy number of Black Diamond Camalot C3s.

Throughout my climbing career, I have used Metolius Mastercams, Metolius TCUs, CCH Aliens,  and other small gear, but I'm still a fan of the Camalot C3 over the rest of the competition.  Assuming that the cam is strong enough to hold a lead fall, there are really only two criteria I consider when selecting micro-cams:  1) they should fit just about anywhere and 2) they should fit there now.  Without a doubt, Black Diamond's brilliantly designed micro-cam is my go-to piece for small gear.

Upon first trigger pull, the cams seem a bit stiff, but after trying it about two more times, you quickly get over this fact. The stiffness of the stem makes them easier to place, manipulate, stay in, and clean from tight spots. I have climbed on them for over 3 years and have only had 2 "almost stuck" scenarios where I was initially unable to retrieve the cam. In other words, while I have had them walk infrequently, it was almost always due to pilot error and improper application of slings.

I am huge fan of the ridiculously small head size of the unit and the narrow head width. I can find a placement for these in cracks, seams, and pods that would otherwise be unprotectable by a cam with a wider head. I'm no aid climber, so I can't speak to that, but for free climbing, I have some serious respect for the ability of a C3 to repeatedly save my ass. This micro-cam can easily turn an R/X climb into something reasonable, and I've used them in this application repeatedly. I've whipped on everything down to size 00 (purple). I've found them equally useful on the Deep South sandstone and North Carolina granite I climb most often as well as at the Gunks, the Red River Gorge, the New River Gorge, Red Rocks, the Black Canyon, and all along the Front Range of Colorado.

Just after whipping onto a green and purple C3
While the C3 is occasionally criticized for its internal springs which are supposedly difficult or impossible to repair (but allow for the narrow head width), I have not had a problem.  I field-repaired a yellow (size 2) C3 over breakfast using a multi-tool in about 15 minutes. They are not very difficult to fix; they simply require a little patience when manipulating the trigger wires.

My only complaint with the Camalot C3 is the size range between the red and yellow (sizes 1 and 2) cams.  As micro-cams are most secure when the lobes are almost fully retracted, it seems there is quite a significant gap between what the red and yellow sizes will optimally protect.  I feel like there could be one more size just in between these two, or perhaps the red C3 could protect slightly larger cracks and the green C3 (the next size down) could be enlarged slightly to create a smoother gradation between sizes.

While the trigger action on the Black Diamond Camalot C3 is a little stiff, they are absolutely my favorite small cam.  They fit seemingly anywhere with ease and make otherwise dangerous climbs much more reasonable.  Having taken leader falls on size 00 to 2, I have complete confidence in the C3 to keep me off the deck when I need it most.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Road Trip!!!

For the past few weeks Susan and I have been putting into motion our plan for the new year, a climbing road trip!  With Susan's graduation, we will be (relatively) responsibility free, so we're taking advantage of the opportunity to go on an extended road trip.

The basic plan is to head to New Hampshire for ice climbing in January, roam the Southeast for winter rock climbing in February, head to Red Rocks, NV in early March, move on to Joshua Tree, CA in late March, round out April with some visits to family and friends, and land in Brevard, North Carolina by May to work at North Carolina Outward Bound.  We're totally psyched!  Follow us for planning updates, trip reports, gear reviews, and all other manner of crazy adventures.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Experience and Judgment in Outdoor Activity

Recently, I wrote a post about self-reliance that I realize may make me sound like an elitist curmudgeon.  I’m okay with that.  To be fair, it can definitely be a hard pill to swallow any time someone says not to do something.  So, what are you to do if you lack the skills and experience to safely go into the backcountry?  The short answer is to go do things that will get you the skills and experience, but it’s not usually that simple. 

There’s a saying that, “Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.”  This is an unfortunate catch-22.  What are you to do as a novice who lacks the experience to have good judgment?  The natural world can be a harsh classroom in which to learn things “the hard way,” because it some cases that may also be “the dead way.”  I think the answer to this question is to be conservative until you know better (and by then, you’ll know when you know better).

In practice, this means putting in a little planning and prep work, getting up a little earlier to start that long climb, picking objectives below your physical/technical/mental limit (until you actually know what those limits are), and doing your research about your chosen objective, activity, or system.  This also means having the humility to recognize that there are many things you do not know.  Further, do not be afraid to back off if you’ve bitten off more than you can chew.  No objective, no pile of gear, and no amount of pride are worth your life. 

For example, despite the fact that I have been rock climbing for quite a while, I know that when it comes to alpine rock, I have less experience, so I choose more conservative objectives.  Similarly, while much of the fitness and many of the technical skills from rock climbing translate to ice climbing, there is still a learning curve and I know that I am still developing as an ice climber.  While this may limit me for the time being, in the long run it will keep me safe and shorten the learning process.

Of course, humility comes at the price of ego.  While ego is often regarded negatively, the plain and simple truth is that in order to climb well (or perform many complex physical-mental tasks), you must have a certain amount of ego to have the self-confidence to succeed.  For example, is it ego that pushes you to climb that scary looking but relatively easy run-out terrain with not much in the way of protection?  Or is it humility that tells you that you are in over your head and should retreat?  Or is it fear that forces you down?  Perhaps your self-confidence and your experience tell you that it’s possible to safely navigate that same terrain and to do so successfully.  Clearly, there’s a fine line between having the self-confidence to climb well and not psych yourself out and the humility to recognize when you’re going to get yourself hurt.

Confidence comes from intimate self-knowledge of your true capabilities. Here we have another catch-22:  the only way to really know your capabilities is through experience, preferably a lot of it.  Again, be conservative, take your time, and get some experience (finding more experienced partners never hurts either!)

So, the next time some curmudgeon is pissed at you for beating them to the start of a classic route and is yelling at you for moving too slow, stand up for yourself!  Kindly explain to them you could complement each other.  You lack the years of experience they have that lets them move fast and light, and they lack the patience you have in being intelligently conservative.  If all goes well, maybe they’ll offer to join forces and share some of that experience!  (And if not, well, there’s a reason “curmudgeon” has a negative connotation.) 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gobble Gobble

YAY Thanksgiving! Derek and I are heading out to South Carolina on Wednesday to spend the holiday with family. I'm extra excited because we'll be able to see both his family and mine this year. Staying with the holiday theme, here are some things I am way thankful for:
  • Being drug free!! Haha, well, cold-medicine-drug free. My nasty head junk is still lingering with some hateful coughing fits, but I'm done with the drugs
  • New Shoez - I got to go running this morning with my new kicks. I didn't get to try them out on trails, but they did pretty good on the road. My lungs however have suffered from the 10 day head cold stupidity. Oh well.
  • Comforters. I really like big fluffy comforters. They are comforting. That is all.
  • The Library - Derek and I got a bunch of free movie 'rentals' from the library this week, including Zombieland. Very funny. You should definitely watch. I also got a few novels, which has not helped me get my homework done. Yes, I am 27 years old and I still have homework. Someday I might grow up. But not today.
  • Family stuff. You know. Love and home-cooking. Hugs and children. Getting punched when you see a BMW Bug. Those things.
Hope y'all have a happy Thanksgiving and safe travels if you are on the road!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Gear Review: Patagonia Men's R1 Hoody

Sometimes I think it's amusing to pretend that it's fun to be outside climbing in the cold.  At these times, I realize that it is, in fact, fun to be out climbing in the cold, provided that you are staying warm.  Meet the Patagonia R1 Hoody.

To be quite honest, there is a lot to say about how much I (and many other people I know) love the R1 Hoody.  First and foremost, it does the intended job--it is incredibly warm for the weight, which isn't much at 11.5 oz.  (Yep, you read that right, one of these weighs more than a fleece pull-over.)  Despite the warmth, it is also quite breathable, an attribute that is accentuated by an extra-long, to-the-navel front zipper.  Despite all my prior experience to the contrary, the single front-zip vents almost as well as pit zips.

More importantly, when you're not moving around, sweating and generating body heat, the features of the R1 Hoody work wonderfully to help retain body heat.  The hood zips into a full balaclava that can be worn under a helmet.  Not only does this make you look like a climbing ninja, but it comes with the added bonus of an offset and lined zipper sleeve to prevent face chafing.  (While that might not seem super important, try two days of stubble with a thoroughly sun- and wind-burnt face in 20F temps and high winds and you'll soon see the importance of a well-placed and properly guarded zipper in preventing a nasty after-shave style rash.)  Further, the waist is extra long with a slender and stretchy cut, creating the perfect tunnel to tuck into your pants without bunching, keeping you warm while preventing chafe against a pack.

I find the fit to be pretty much perfect for me.  I am consistently impressed with the fit of pieces by Patagonia.  The R1 Hoody is cut for athletic individuals; a large quite reasonably accommodates my lanky (6'3" 175lbs) frame.  The cut on the garment is fitted but not tight, with just a tiny bit of room to breathe, making it excellent for layering beneath a soft shell or heavier insulation.  The thumb loops serve not only to keep the sleeves in place under layers but also offer additional warmth and a modicum of hand coverage when the gloves come off in cold weather to cling to a heinous crimp.  Finally, the fabric is recycled and recyclable, just one more perk of buying Patagonia. 

What could possibly be wrong with such a well-designed piece of clothing? Not much, though there are a few things worth mentioning.  The R1 fabric is not very wind resistant, so it won't be much good against the wind if worn as the outermost layer.  On the other hand, if it's the outermost layer, you're probably working pretty hard, in which case the wind might just be refreshing.  Aside from that, a few of the details caught my attention.  The thumb loops on the sleeves appear to be adequately reinforced, but I haven't used the piece enough to know whether they will actually stand up to repeated use and abuse.  While the balaclava hood is great for some added warmth and fits well under a helmet, it is not cut quite like a true balaclava, making a helmet chin strap rest awkwardly and pinch the fabric.  Finally, the size of the chest pocket and its location on what is likely an inner layer of clothing preclude it from seeing significant use, with the exception of storing a lighter where it will stay warm, dry, and most importantly, functional.

For 11 years, the Patagonia Regulator Fleece line of products has been lauded by those who spend time working hard in cold weather, and rightfully so (see the latest issue of Climbing for yet another rave review).  The warmth for the weight is unbelievable, the fit is outstanding, and the features are brilliant.  While the R1 Hoody doesn't hold up well against heavy winds, there is little else to complain about.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Alpine Climbing Self-Rescue

I came across this video a few days ago and thought it was worth sharing.  (Warning:  this video contains some profanity and some graphic images of injuries.)  The Cliff Notes version is that two climbers set off to climb a long ice gully when the leader triggers an avalanche sending both of them for massive falls.  One of the climbers suffers severe injuries to one ankle and the opposite quadriceps.  Amazingly, the other climber emerges unscathed.  The video chronicles their descent off the route and the subsequent travel back to the trailhead.  While there is certainly room for improvement in their epic, they deserve much credit (and they do WAY better than in this video).  Most remarkable is that the party completed a self-rescue with absolutely no outside support.  I tip my hat to these two, their unwavering resolve, their self-reliance, and their ability to keep their cool during a stressful, painful, and life-threatening situation.  Will Gadd offers a cogent analysis of the self-rescue on his blog.

This notion of self-reliance brings me to an important question about climbing (especially in the alpine) today:  is self-reliance valued?

Recently, I have been having an ongoing debate with one of my climbing partners about whether we would hire porters on a hypothetical Himalayan expedition (not that there’s any real chance we’d be anywhere near the Himalaya anytime soon, but it makes for good mental masturbation while driving to the crag).  He favors hiring porters to help carry his gear to base camp and then further up the mountain.  I am vehemently opposed to the practice.

There are two broad schools of thought in alpine climbing and mountaineering:  “alpine style” and “siege tactics.”  I am a strong proponent of alpine style, whereas he tends to exhibit more “ethical flexibility.”  In my opinion, the purest alpine ascent is one that follows Reinhold Messner’s notion of “fair means”—no bolts, no supplemental oxygen, no help other than yourself or partner(s), taking the mountain for what it is and having the humility to retreat if you are not up to the challenge.  To me, this also means adherence to the maxims of “light is right” and “speed is safety.”  If I can’t carry it on my back, it shouldn’t be coming along.  Therefore, I shouldn’t need to hire a porter.  He countered that hiring porters stimulates the local economy; I am more than happy to support the local economy in ways that don’t demean the native population into schlepping my extra crap around because I brought along more than I needed.

Naturally, the debate finally degenerated into good-natured name-calling and ended when I was asked whether I would fly to Alaska to climb.  We found the limits of my ethical purity—it would certainly be much more self-reliant to bike all the way to Denali (I have a friend who is actually doing just that!), but I admitted that I would fly to Alaska and start my climb from there (but that I would still carry all of my own stuff!)

To me, the punchline is that my friend’s view is not altogether different from what I perceive as that of many climbers today.  There is little emphasis on self-reliance.  When the excrement hits the oscillator, it’s a lot easier to call 911 or punch the SOS button on your GPS messenger than to solve your own problem.  Further, it seems that many climbers lack the tools and skills to effect their own rescue even if they chose to do so.

In many ways, perhaps, this is a moot point.  How dangerous can it really be to go bouldering some place where you have not only cell service, but 3G signal, a paved parking lot, a 30-second approach, and possibly even flush toilets?  I think the danger arises when the mentality of the climbing gym is transferred to the “outdoor gym,” and then subsequently carried one step further to a legitimate backcountry setting without appreciating the change in commitment level or time and distance from help.

Part of the beauty of climbing is that in practice there are no rules.  You can climb however you see fit so long as you’re not actively endangering others (and even then people sometimes do this anyway!)  This freedom is one of the many things that attracts me to climbing, and I certainly would not have it be diminished.  (Since I value self-reliance in addition to this freedom, I am also inclined to feel that it would be partly my own fault for hanging around people who could be endangering my safety.)  Consequently, I cannot legitimately get upset at someone who hires a porter, hang dogs a route while giving some ridiculous spray-down, or claims a clean send when holding onto the gear to clip it.  That’s all a matter of style.  I have personal rules about what I consider good style, but what is right for me is not necessarily right for others.

However, with freedom comes responsibility, and it is here that I will not compromise.  If you are going to the backcountry, you should know your stuff and be ready to save your own ass or accept the consequences.  Period.  Search-and-rescue operations are time-consuming, costly, and endanger the lives of countless people, often volunteers, and the callous and flippant use of these services is irresponsible and reprehensible.  (I am absolutely NOT denying that there are legitimate uses of rescue services.)  So, if you’re reading this and you don’t know how to tie a munter-mule, reduce a shoulder dislocation, navigate in a white-out, or keep it together when the going gets tough, stay out of the backcountry until you do.  Read a book, take a class, hire a guide, do your homework, get in shape, gain some knowledge, practice some skills, and then go get some experience.  Everyone involved will be happier for it.

Peregrine Climbing Guides

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Got Sick

My stupid cold did not get chased away before my Sunday morning run as I had hoped. Instead, I stayed home for the entire beautiful weekend, stuck inside sniffling and sneezing as my cold got progressively worse. Ugh. I'm finally back on my feet today, after about a week of hacking up phlegm (yummy) and not working out.

I am both looking forward to and dreading my first work out after this week of nothing. So to distract myself from thinking about that, I now bring you...

Fun Facts from the Week of Phlegm:
  • Going to a smokey bar is never good for your health. Even if your friends say its not that bad or we'll only stay for one drink. Yes, Sam Latone, I'm calling you out. You should feel horrible for making me have a good time. 
  • NyQuil is awesome, but causes me to have crazy, vivid dreams. Which of course I can never remember after I wake up. I just know that they are crazy and vivid. 
  • Tuscaloosa was under a Tornado Watch this week. Sooooo not cool. Not only is it completely inappropriate to have a tornado watch the week before Thanksgiving, but it really gives me the heebie-geebies after Derek & I found ourselves trapped in the path the April 27th tornado. I am done with this tornado crap. I want to move to the mountains. Yesterday.
  • Vitamin C drops are better than candy because you get to say that they are good for you. Even though they taste just like candy.
  • I has new shoez!!! I got the La Sportiva Raptors - will tell you how they do when I finally get to run again...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Get Psyched

I write this with ice wrapped to the back of my calves, the reluctant admission that what I thought was a "reasonable" workout was, in fact, a bit too intense.  Now in week 6 of training post-surgery, and probably due for a few legitimate rest days, I am holding out for Thanksgiving where a 10-hour drive (one-way) should effectively wreck any real training plans I might have otherwise devised.

By now, my original super-motivation at simply being allowed to move around again has long since worn off.  I see no other option than to intentionally barrage myself with motivation.  So here it is, a list of things to motivate me:

1.  I have the freedom to move however I like.  Two months ago I wasn't even allowed to bend over or stand up quickly.  I choose to celebrate this fact.

2.  It was 85 degrees today.  In case you haven't been keeping up with your calendar, it's mid-November.  The ridiculously warm weather is plenty of encouragement to get out of town and head some place distant to climb in the cold, because that's just way too hot for this time of year.

3.  New gear is slowly trickling into the apartment--long underwear, trail running shoes, gloves, carabiners, picks for the ice tools.  Soon enough, I will get to put it all to good use.

4.  Ueli Steck, Patrick Aufdenblatten, and Steve House.  Even if you're not a climber, you can't help but find these videos inspiring:

Ueli Steck speed climbing the North Face of the Eiger
Patrick Aufdenblatten at Ice World Cup 2009
Steve House free soloing "Repentance" and "Remission" in New Hampshire

5.  A new woody!  Now I've got dedicated space to throw down some bouldering amidst running, core workouts, weight lifting, and anything else I can find to shred some muscles.

6.  My partners Susan (though sick at the moment), Sam, and Chris, are all equally psyched to go ice climbing.  It's a lot easier to stay motivated if you have people to train with and people to climb with.  If nothing else, they keep you honest.

7.  Finally, there's http://www.neice.com, where I can watch the ice come into season from afar until my vicarious experiences can become lived ones.

Alright, training just got a lot easier.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Book Review: Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain

I tend to read pretty voraciously--not owning a TV, frequently being away from civilization, and wanting to learn about almost everything will do that to you.  While I will read most anything, I tend to favor non-fiction, especially the informative and personally relevant kind. Since Susan and I will be taking a more serious foray into winter alpine climbing in January, I decided that the next step in my self-education should cover snow and avalanches.

Particularly when I am reading about subjects upon which my life may later depend, I tend to judge the worth of the information in a book on a few things:

Where is this information coming from?  What is its ultimate source?  Is this simply opinion, an assertion based on extensive experience, a compendium of various knowledgeable individuals, or scholarly (particularly scientific) research?  Who is the author/editor/writing team and what is their expertise?

Depth of Coverage
Is the subject in question covered in sufficient depth to provide more than a cursory understanding of the basic principles and underlying mechanisms?  Who is the target audience?  What do I need to know about the subject in advance?

Does the author place the subject in words and context that are easy to understand?  Are analogies clear and relevant?  Are there devices to make the text engaging apart from the subject matter itself?

When it comes to learning about snow and avalanches, my tome of choice is Bruce Tremper's Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain. While I have read a half-dozen avalanche texts and references at this point, Staying Alive still takes the prize for the best general-audience book on the subject.

The author, Bruce Tremper, is intimately familiar with snow and avalanches. Growing up in Montana, avalanches were a part of Tremper's childhood education out of sheer necessity.  As a professional skier and then ski patroller, Tremper put in the necessary leg work to truly understand how snow feels and what that means about its stability.  (He even notes the smell of some types of snow in the text!)  As an avalanche educator and professional, he has forecast avalanches across the United States for decades.  Clearly, he can speak with authority.

Equally important are the sources which back up Tremper's writing.  He unobtrusively cites numerous scientific studies throughout the text and includes more than 20 additional avalanche- and weather-related books in the bibliography.  Tremper's work on international committees lends additional credence to his coverage of the subject matter.  Finally, the author knows what he doesn't know.  While he is extremely knowledgeable about a wide selection of avalanche environments and terrain, he openly admits that he is most familiar with his home mountains Salt Lake City, Utah.

I feel that the depth of coverage in Staying Alive is near perfect.  The text addresses such basic yet complex topics as weather, snow pack, and snow stability while maintaining a respect for practical needs through the discussion of terrain management, routefinding, and rescue.  It lacks the depth of McClung and Schaerer's Avalanche Handbook but is much easier to digest for anyone who is not an avalanche professional.  Tremper does not gloss over important subjects, though, covering key points repeatedly, unlike in Ferguson and LaChapelle's painfully brief The ABCs of Avalanche Safety.  For example, it is quite clear to the reader that good terrain management is far more useful in staying safe than knowing how to dig a perfect snow pit.

Finally, the prose is remarkably readable.  Tremper expertly injects humor, dry wit, and clever analogies that not only keep the reader entertained and interested in a seemingly mundane subject but also aid in comprehension.  To the benefit of the reader, everyday objects such as a magazine, a bag of tortilla chips, and a rubber band are used to explain complex natural phenomenon like slab avalanches, granular flow, and stress fractures propagation.  Tremper has taught numerous avalanche clinics to novice outdoor enthusiasts, and it shows through the manner in which he writes.

Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain offers the reader an in-depth look at the important aspects of avalanche formation while avoiding boring and overly complex dissection of snow types that would leave all but long-time avalanche professionals utterly confused.  The work is remarkably easy to read with simple yet effective analogies.  The pragmatism laced throughout is sure to engage the reader, guaranteeing they know how to appropriately manage risk to themselves and companions when traveling and recreating in avalanche terrain.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Training Update

Week #2 of ice climbing + 25K trail run training is officially complete! Overall I feel like this week went better than last (I did not cry a single time), but it has left me pretty physically fatigued. That plus being exposed to cold weather camping, sick people at work, and my own poor food choices (leftover Halloween candy & beer do not make good recovery food (in case you were wondering )) has resulted in me getting a nasty head cold. Anyway...

Without further ado, here is my “Track My Training” report for week #1 and #2

Weight Training
My weight training initially sucked and resulted in me crying within the first 5 minutes of our first workout (Thank you Meredith for posting about your meltdown! It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who does that!). However, I quickly figured out what alternate exercises I could do when necessary and stuck with it in terms of maintaining reps & sets of exercises that focus specifically on ice climbing goals. I even managed to use a 15 lb weight instead of a 10 lb weight for several sessions.

See this post for a sample work-out from week 1 and this post for pictures of a specific exercise for ice climbing.

The second half of week two was a bit disappointing for me because I tweaked my right shoulder and had to reduce my shoulder specific exercises. My right shoulder is particularly weak from previous repeat injuries (more recent example). The weight training will definitely help reduce my chances of injuries in the future, but it’s a constant battle to avoid overuse injuries in the meantime.

Cardio Training - Total Mileage
Week One: 15 miles on flat, paved terrain
Week two: 17 miles total; 9.5/trails, 6.5/stairs, 1/flat pavement

I think my mileage increase was an appropriate amount. However, the swift increase in terrain difficulty may have been a bit ambitious and a factor in my current state of exhaustion. That said if I can kill this cold with a couple solid rest days I am still going to attempt a 13 mile run on Sunday at Lake Lurleen on my future race course (yay for making the most of the home-field advantage!).

Tashka Trail Start
I do have a dilemma with my Sunday running goal beyond my current head-cold issue. Several members of the race committee along with other volunteer runners will be getting together Sunday morning at 6:00AM to run sections of the course, and they have invited me to run with them. The goal of the gathering is to evaluate the trails to see what work needs to be done before the race next month. I would really love to run at the same time as everyone else so that I’m not out there in the woods alone, but I also don’t want to get up for a 6:00AM run when the overnight lows have been sub-freezing and I’ve been on a evening-shift schedule at work. That just seems like a dumb idea when I’m trying super hard to get well/not get sick again.

So I’m undecided. I think getting up that early and running in cold weather will have a negative impact on my ability to recover well. However, Derek is out of town this weekend and I have no one else to run with. While running alone doesn’t bother me, the trail is a minimum 13 mile loop around a lake with some pretty steep terrain and it doesn’t see a lot of regular traffic.

If something stupid happens (as typically happens to me (like me stepping on a snake; getting attacked by a deer; or something more normal like me spraining an ankle)), I could potentially be as much as 6.5 trail miles from my car, an additional 10 road miles from a hospital, with no way to call for help (no cell service). This just seems dumb. To further complicate the decision, the race itself is scheduled for a morning start in cold weather so it might actually be good for my race day performance to have been training in similar conditions. Or it might just make me sick.

Have any of you ever been in this type of situation? Have any advice?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Finally Got a Woody! Sorta.

For the last 5 weeks, I have been helping my friend and business partner, Chris Latham, build a wooden indoor bouldering wall in his garage, more commonly referred to as a "woody."  (This simply confirms climbers' love for innuendo.  Seriously, we talk about how big our racks are and jamming our greasy tips into cracks.)  At times progress has been quick, but generally, things have been painfully slow.  This is probably because it's significantly easier to work on a project when you do it in increments larger than 2 hours.

The woody is planned in four sections:  1) a small vertical wall, 2) a 45 degree overhang, 3) a 20 degree overhang, and 4) a roof section.  While we haven't actually finished sections 3 or 4, we do finally have climbable surface area!  Now we just need to stay undistracted by our new found toy long enough to finish the rest of the project...

The first thing we needed to do was clean out the garage.  This is the garage after it had been cleaned out.  (Note also that the majority of the things still in the garage are actually where the wall is now located.)

Next, we built framing for the kick boards, the small sections at the base of the wall used for footholds.  We also added sleepers for the vertical wall.  (Somehow there is still a large chair right where the wall is supposed to go.)

After that, we needed to recruit some help to put up the angled framing members.  Our friend Gary assisted with the measuring and cutting, and Sam Latone helped with the assembly.  Victory beers seemed appropriate at this point.  (Hey, the chair is gone!)


 Yesterday, Chris and I worked in earnest to try to get the panels up on the wall since we have already missed our self-imposed November 1 deadline by a week.  This is as far as we got.  (The chair magically reappeared, seen on the right side of the photo.)

Last night, Chris called me, determined to get at least one usable section completed.  After a couple hours of work, it was time for a quick session with his kids.  I'm pictured testing and setting a new problem with Chris' son.  I've finally accepted the chair as a permanent fixture.  I'm trying to figure out how to incorporate it into a problem on the wall.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Disappointingly Good Weekend

I've been admittedly slow in posting a trip report for this past weekend's latest adventure, due in no small part to simply being busy.  Don't believe me?  Three days later and the apartment still looks like this:

Despite my negligence in letting the world know about it (which is undeniably a rather narcissistic pursuit anyway), the latest adventure on Southern sandstone was really quite stellar.  Susan and I jetted out of town as soon as she got done with work Friday afternoon and headed to Horse Pens 40, "the South's best-kept secret."  Horse Pens 40 is home to a full-service campground, a natural amphitheater, bluegrass festivals, and hundreds of high-quality bouldering problems on stellar stone mere yards from the camping.  Owing to this near-perfect set-up, Horse Pens 40 is also the site of the third and final leg of the Southeastern Climber's Coalition and Carolina Climber's Coalition's annual Triple Crown Bouldering Series competition.

Garrett on "Genesis" (V3)
We met up with my good friend, Sam Latone, and his girlfriend, Stephanie, at camp Friday night and waited for the arrival of my younger brother, Garrett.  Garrett was registered to compete in the men's intermediate competition, meaning he would be attempting to climb the 10 hardest routes possible between V3 and V5, with more points awarded for the completion of harder routes.  My younger brother, being the exceptionally motivated undergraduate he is, would be going to class and working all day Friday, driving 6 hours to join us late Friday night, climbing at his physical maximum for 8 solid hours on Saturday, and driving back 6 hours Sunday morning to meet for a group project and work Sunday night.  Did I mention he was flying out for a job interview on Monday?  He got the job :)

Daniel on "Uniball" (V4)
While Susan, Sam, Stephanie, and I waited by the fire in the open-air barn for Garrett to arrive Friday night, we were approached by a young German Ph.D. student in materials science.  Daniel Siegismund had arrived in Nashville, Tennessee a few days earlier for a conference and was taking advantage of a university-provided plane ticket to travel to Horse Pens 40 for the bouldering competition. He was attempting to determine the conversion between French "font" bouldering grades and the "Vermin" bouldering scale used in the United States.  He stopped by our small gathering with his inquiry.  One napkin, a leaky fountain pen, and 5 minutes of deliberation later and we had composed a wholly illegible and barely useful conversion scale of dubious accuracy.  That didn't stop Daniel from being psyched to explore the boulder field with us that evening.  He would be joining Susan, Garrett, and I the next day for the intermediate competition.  Susan and I would serve as spotters while Garrett and Daniel competed.

While Garrett was disappointed that he did not place in the competition, he and Daniel still dispatched a large number of difficult climbs, each completing a couple V6s in a few attempts and a V5 on the first try.

Daniel on "Out of the Box" (V6)
On Sunday, we found ourselves at Sand Rock, about an hour away from Horse Pens 40.  Unbeknownst to us, apparently the rest of the country switched from daylight savings time back to standard time Saturday night.  There was some confusion when we woke about the time.  While we were a little upset about missing our extra hour of sleep, it instead meant an extra hour of climbing time, so we decided we couldn't really be upset.

Sam after the FA of "Pardon Our Progress"
The project of the day was a potential first ascent (pretty much everything has been climbed at Sand Rock at one time or another, so the odds of a true FA are close to nil) around the corner from "Dreamscape."  The line in question begins with a short highball of dirty conglomerate and is followed by a series of discontinuous flakes, horizontals, and cracks for another 40 feet to the top.  I scoped the line with Sam about a month ago and had been biding my time since my surgery until I was back in fighting shape for the lead.  I determined that this past weekend I had finally recovered my fitness sufficiently to attempt an on-sight climb of the new line.  "Pardon Our Progress" ultimately went with one fall near the top (much to my chagrin) and the tentative grade of 5.11-

Daniel on his first trad lead of "Knob Wall" (5.6)
Sam and Stephanie, both hacking up some nasty green things from their lungs, had to depart around noon for some needed food and rest, just as Daniel arrived to join us for the afternoon.  We spent the better part of the day doing laps on "Knob Wall" (5.6) so that Daniel could do his first trad lead.  We were all psyched when he clipped the anchors.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I like big butts

I know this is shallow. I know it is superficial. I know I really shouldn’t care. But I really hope that all this training gives me sweet abs, shapely arms, and, perhaps above all, a really cute butt.

Derek likes to say that appearances are a consequence of fitness - you shouldn’t work out just to look good. You should work out to feel good and to be able to do the things you like better. The good looks are just a consequence of all that fitness.

That’s nice and all, but I haven’t been able to stay on that bandwagon just yet. When we are working out and I’m feeling tired and de-motivated, I just think, “one more squat and I’ll have the most beautiful butt ever” until I get it done.

Now, you might think that I must be silly - I am already very slender, I should be happy with how I look. But slender is just another way to say scrawny, much like willowy is just another way to say anorexically thin looking. And importantly, skinny DOES NOT equal healthy! I want to be and look healthy. I don’t want to look like a stiff breeze will blow me over.

To top off my scrawny-winter-tree like frame (or rather to bottom off), I have been blessed with the classic Kurtz butt = flat and saggy (Kurtz is my Mama's family name. Hi Mom. You know you love me). Seriously, where most folks enjoy a nice cute bump for a bottom, my back just keeps on sliding down to my flat, saggy butt. It’s not fair at all. No one as scrawny as me should have to suffer with a saggy butt. It’s bad enough that it’s flat, why does it have to sag too??

So where am I going with this tirade?

Well, I checked out my saggy flat butt in the mirror this morning. It doesn’t look any better yet. It’s been a week. When will I get a cute butt?? I will continue to update you on the progress of my cute butt building, but I’d love to hear from y’all - how soon do you start seeing results from a new work out regime?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Gear Review: Mountain Hardwear Men's Hooded Compressor Jacket

In the fall of 2010, I was on the prowl for a new jacket in preparation for a cold and wet Southeastern winter.  I considered quite a few puffy jackets along the way, and had some important criteria to meet:

Down v. Synthetic
First, the jacket had to be synthetic.  While down offers more warmth for the weight, I intended to use my jacket in relatively humid environments, in cold, damp conditions, and in the field for extended periods (a week or more) where it rapidly becomes impossible to keep anything dry.  Therefore, I needed synthetic insulation that would keep me warm even if it was damp.

Hood Required
Second, it had to have a hood.  While I certainly have some layers in my clothing system sans a cushy cover-up for my dome, in general, I expect my insulating and outer layers to be hooded to actually protect me from the elements.

Weight v. Durability
Third, the jacket needed to be light weight, compressible, and relatively durable.  (Light and compressible are features which are frequently at odds with durable.) 

Finally, as a climber, I wanted a jacket that had climber-friendly features—pockets positioned to be accessible with a harness on, easy to fit over or under a shell, simple one-handed adjustments that could be made while wearing gloves, a 2-way zipper for belaying, and hopefully a way to pack tightly and clip to the back of a harness.

The Mountain Hardwear Men’s Hooded Compressor Jacket fit the bill in almost every respect. Now that I’ve had a year or so to put it through the paces, I feel confident that I can write a solid review for it.

The insulation in the jacket is superb.  It packs down tightly, making it easy to stuff into a pack or use as a pillow, but lofts readily once worn.  It is fairly wind resistant and offers a surprising amount of warmth for the weight.  It is warm enough that I have slept outside without a sleeping bag with nighttime lows of 45F, substituting the jacket instead (and saving a lot of weight and space along the way!)

The fit is outstanding.  The jacket has a roomy but athletic cut.  It nicely fits my 175lb, 6’3” frame—the sleeves are long enough, the shoulders and elbows have great mobility, and it tapers a bit onto my narrow waist.  It fits well over insulating mid-layers and below a large shell, or directly over a medium shell, depending on conditions.  I have used it both for belay duty in sunny, chilly temps over a softshell, as well as a heavy insulating layer under my shell while ice climbing.  This is the kind of versatility I appreciate in a good puffy.

It also has a good number of climbing specific features.  The pockets are positioned for ease of access while wearing a harness.  The adjustments to the hem and hood are simple and easy to make with gloves and the hood fits over a climbing helmet.

There are only two places I find the Compressor somewhat lacking.  The first is in the durability.  The jacket is surprisingly resistant to abrasion (I’ve worn it carefully scumming up a sandstone chimney), but is still not quite as tough as I would like.  It seems to snag constantly on random rock edges, bushes, etc., resulting in tiny tears and holes, though it is easily patched with seam grip.  I would be willing to trade a little weight for a slightly more durable outer layer.  That being said, it is meant to be a lightweight alpine jacket, and using it in that environment I really can’t complain.

My only other gripes are pretty minor. I would have liked to have seen a 2-way zipper to easily accommodate a belay device when using this piece as a belay jacket.  I would also appreciate a built-in compression pocket of some kind with a clip-in point to easily throw the jacket onto the back of the harness when not wearing a pack.  I have gotten around this issue pretty well by stuffing the Compressor into its own hood and clipping the hood adjustment.

First, I feel a small disclaimer is in order.  Since my Compressor is last season’s version, the insulation is PrimaLoft.  Mountain Hardwear has since switched the Compressor to its proprietary Thermic Micro insulation.  However, if the performance of the Thermic Micro insulation in my Mountain Hardwear sleeping bag is any indicator, the Compressor will not suffer for the difference in insulation.  I highly recommend this jacket as a great choice for a heavy insulating layer or light-weight outer belay jacket that performs well even in the cold, windy, and wet.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Climbing Tech Tip Videos

About a month ago, I shot a series of climbing tech tip videos after a day of guiding.  The series focuses on the many uses of plaquette-style belay devices such as the Black Diamond ATC-Guide or the Petzl Reverso 3.  I finally found the time to edit the videos and upload them to the Peregrine Climbing Guides youtube channel.  I've embedded the first one which covers basic top belaying directly from the anchor:

You can find the other 5 videos in the series at the below links:
Redirected Lowering
Unanticipated Lowering
3 to 1 Haul System
Ascending a Rope
The "Gas Pedal" for Top Rope Belaying

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Stand, Swing, Tap

Here is one of the exercises that Derek came up with to help us train for ice climbing. For lack of a name, I'm dubbing it "Stand, Swing, Tap." The tree in the picture is already dead, so we were not harming it.

The Stand, Swing, Tap:
1. Start sitting with one tool stuck at an arm's length
2. Pull into a standing position
3. Swing your free tool and tap a full arm's length above


This is Dry Tooling

As promised, here are some photos of Derek and me dry tooling as part of our training for ice climbing. Check out my painfully scrawny arms...

Wednesday's Workout

Today's workout felt mostly alright. My upper abs are still painfully sore from the last two workouts, so the core work was heinous. However the main portion of the workout went well enough that we did four sets instead of the three we had planned on doing.

The worst part of the workout was the pull-ups. I came pretty close to crying again because I just couldn't do them. Well, I DID do them, but it took forever - I grunted my way up one pull-up and then was so smoked that I had to rest before trying the next one. Derek tried several different methods to keep me motivated, but I still just wanted to sit down and cry. I'm kind of a big baby like that. Anyway, I finished it.

Here's the whole workout we did. Derek did almost everything with 20 lb weights, and I did most everything with 15 lb weights. We both bumped down to different weights for the wrist curls & reverse wrist curls.

The Warm Up
4 mile run at 31 min 57 sec
20 pull ups on ice tools

The Main Deal - 4 sets 
Wrist Curls, 10 reps/ea
Reverse Wrist Curls, 10 reps/ea
Triceps, 10 reps
Slasher to Halo, 10 reps
Air Squats, 30 seconds
Calf Raises 60 seconds

The Core Work - 3 sets
Russian Twist, 10 reps/ea
Spider, 20 seconds
V Crunches, 20 reps

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Dry Tooling

Doesn't that sound like a dirty phrase? Derek and I went dry tooling this morning. It just sounds wrong. But it's not anything dirty at all, except for dirty in the literal sense that we were in the woods for our training session this morning.

Derek and I went out to a local boulder field to practice our technique for mixed climbing by 'dry tooling' and bouldering in boots and gloves. We also found a recently dead tree to practice tool swings and sticks. We didn't have a specific work-out to post here, but we did a variety of exercises to work our technique and my strength. I was pretty pleased with myself when I managed to keep my feet off the ground and move around a bit on an overhanging rock.

The next couple of posts will be pictures from this morning's excursion. I think they will do a much better job of explaining our training session than my words could.