Thursday, December 6, 2012

Rock Instructor Exam Part 2

The day before the exam started, we had a meeting with the instructors to go over the logistics, risk management, and get to know each other.  We were given our route assignments and our partner for the first two days.  I was paired with Russel.  Our first day would be climbing at Hemingway Buttress with Silas. The next day we were to guide Angela on the Sentinel.  After the meeting, we hung out a bit, discussed our plan for the day then left to go get fueled up for the next day.  That night was the first night of not sleeping in a tent. I appreciated having a shower that night. Then I prepped some more that evening before falling asleep at 8:30.

The next morning I woke up at 5AM when I started to get a bit nervous. Apparently, I had started thinking about the exam while I was sleeping and then I couldn't get back to sleep once I had woken up. My route assignment that day was to lead White Lightning and something else after Russel led his route, Overseer.  We were the first ones to the crag that morning so we hopped right on White Lightning.  It is a 5.8 crack that goes all the way to the top.  About 3/4 of the way up there is a small nook in which you can set a belay if you want to break the route into two pitches.  I did just that and brought Silas and Russel up to me.  From there I did a short pitch to the top.  Getting off of Hemingway can be a bit of a challenge since there are only two rappel stations for the entire wall. Luckily, after topping out, I was close to the central rappel station and we quickly made it back down to the ground. Russel then took over and took us up Overseer.  It is a great route with a crux that will keep you on your toes.  From there we rappelled on the right side of the wall.  It was now my turn again.  I went up this exposed fin covered in patina plates.  The only downside to this route was the lack of adequate gear.  Still, I loved it. Once back on the ground, Russel took us up Feltonian Physics.  Another great route on Hemingway. After that route, we went to a pile of rocks near the base and refined some short roping techniques. That was our first day. By the end of the day, the nerves had finally settled.  Now time to get ready for day two.

On day two, Russel was assigned Fote Hog and I was assigned Western Saga both of which are on the Sentinel in Real Hidden Valley.  Fote Hog is a 5.6 that starts up a ramp, goes on to a face with a thin crack, then moves right to a juggy overhang.  From there it follows cracks and ledges to the top.  My route, Western Saga, is normally done as a single pitch but due to it having a huge ledge half way up the climb, I broke it up.  The first pitch is thin crack and stemming in a corner.  Above the ledge, you get a slightly overhung hand crack going up to a roof. The roof moves follow the crack and are a bit awkward.  After the roof, there is a flaring hand crack to a nice ledge.  After this, Russel chose to take us up Sail Away which is a beautiful 5.8 finger crack.  Over there I ran into some people I had met before from NC.  After Sail Away we went to Intersection Rock to climb Mike's Book. I only was able to do the first pitch due to time constraints.  It is a fun route with an awkward start leading to jugs in a corner.  We then came down and debriefed for the day.
Russel coming down off of Sail Away

Day three was the rescue drill and movement test day.  The rescue drill, is a 45 minutes exercise in which you must show your knowledge and application of certain rescue tools needed by a guide to safely get out of a situation if one were to arise.  It can be quite stressful having an examiner standing a few feet away watching your every move. In my rock instructor course, I had some issues that I needed to work on to get a good time on the drill.  Well I must have practiced enough because I was well within time.  After doing the rescue drill we did the knot pass. It is a 5 minute exercise in which we must lower a client past a knot in the rope. I had slight brain fart during the knot pass which I luckily caught before it hosed me.  This added time to the drill.  I still got through it in time. Next we did our movement test.  The first route was Pope's Crack. It is a 5.9+ thin hands crack that leads to a slightly downward traverse before going back up a fun lieback flake. The next route we did was Touch and Go 5.9.  It starts off in a corner with twin cracks. It them moves to a single dihedral crack with a juggy top out.
Looking up at the guys doing the rescue drill

Rodney and Russel hanging out during the rescue drill

Wes going down to Russel during the drill

Day four was the first day that I was able to do some of the longer routes in Joshua Tree. This day, Russel and I were with Tom Hargis.  The three of us went to Lost Horse Wall to do Dappled Mare and Bird on a Wire. Russel was up first on Dappled Mare. It has an interesting downward traverse which creates a somewhat unique guiding problem.  Russel negotiated it well and we were quickly through that part of the climb. He took us to the top then guided us down the walk off.  Next, I was up on Bird on a Wire.  It is a 5.10a that follows a sweeping crack line to the top. The second pitch is the money pitch.  It has a thin section that is protected by a bolt but you are able to get gear soon afterward in a finger crack.  The crack eventually opens up to a juggy crack that is a lot of fun.  You then cross Dappled Mare and continue on juggy cracks all the way to the top. We then did the descent back to the base.  We wrapped things up for the day.  Back at camp we had a good debrief in which Tom gave some great critiques on our day which helped me understand the use of certain tools better.
Tom on the second pitch of Bird on a Wire

Russel finishing up Bird on a Wire

The fifth and final day of being on the rock, Russel and I were once again with Silas. We were assigned to guide Walk on the Wild Side and Right On on Saddle Rock.  Walk on the Wild Side was the only route in the exam that I did not have to onsight since I had done it before the exam. We went up the three pitches then rappelled back to the base. This was one of the most straight forward assignments I had. We then hiked over to Right On. There was a party that was finishing what they thought was the first pitch.  So we had lunch and chilled.  Eventually, we were able to head up. We were continually having to wait at belays on this route due to the party ahead of us. At one point, we waited 30 minutes before Russel was able to begin leading the last pitch. Eventually, we made it to the top of Saddle Rock.  There we basked in the sun since we had been in the shade most of the day. We then did a double rope rappel to the ground and with a bit of rock hopping. After this day, we all went out for dinner at the Saloon. We were finally able to relax and just enjoy the evening.
Russel after taking us to the top of Right On

View from the top of Saddle Rock

The sixth day, we had our debrief as a group in the morning. Then individual debriefs went until about 2 in the afternoon. We were done. Wes and I just chilled out the rest of the day. He was leaving the next day and I was waiting for Jill to come into town. The next morning before Jill and I head to Utah, we did one last climb in Joshua Tree.  I chose Overhang Bypass since it is only 5.7 and is quickly accessed. I led up the first pitch to a cave like feature on Intersection Rock.  The route then goes to the right on a hand rail. It is quite exposed and then goes to a slabby face. When Jill got to the belay I could tell she was stressed by the exposure. We sat there for a little bit and then decided that we could do this.  Because she was stressed, I belayed her from the bottom of the slab so that she could see me as she did the exposed traverse. We eventually made it to the top.  There we relaxed in a water bowl feature soaking up the view and the sun.  We then rappelled down and started on our way to central Utah.

After a couple of restful days with my girlfriend, I made my way back to North Carolina.  It had been an amazing few weeks.  I had gotten the chance to climb at a new place that has amazing climbs, I learned a ton of stuff on my exam, I completed the exam, and I spent time with a beautiful woman. Now I was ready to get back home and begin working again. A week after getting back home, I received a manilla envelope in the mail. I opened it and found a certificate with my name saying that I am now a Certified Rock Instructor. I was psyched. I cannot take all of the credit though. I have had great mentors here at Fox Mountain Guides particularly from Ron. Also thank to Wes for joining me on this trip. It was nice to see the NC Mafia, a title we were given by another guy in the exam, crush the exam. And thank to Angela Hawse, Tom Hargis, and Silas Rossi for their great instruction and amazing work they do for the AMGA.

If you would like to see a Certified Rock Instructor at work you can find my contact information on my contact page on this blog. You can also find me and other great guides at Fox Mountain Guides.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Rock Instructor Exam Part I (Pre-Exam Days)

For anyone who follows what I write on this blog, you will probably know that last fall I took the American Mountain Guides Association's Rock Instructor Course.  By taking this course, I was able to guide in multipitch terrain for work.  It was a great learning experience that opened up some great opportunities for me.  After taking that course the next question was do I move on to the Rock Guide Course or take the Rock Instructor Exam?  I quickly decided to take the exam after some advice from my fellow coworkers.  Originally, I was hoping to take the exam next spring.  That would give me ample time to prepare and save up the money.  Instead, I was persuaded to take the exam this fall in Joshua Tree National Park.

I had never been to Joshua Tree before. Friends have told me that it is a magical place where your inner dirtbag is at peace. Joshua Tree lies about an hour to the east of Palm Springs in southern California. One thing that the park is known for and is its namesake are the multitude of Joshua Trees spread throughout the park.  You get forests of these huge Dr. Seuss looking plants that are not even trees at all.  They are actually a type of yucca plant.  Some of the Joshua Trees are thought to be 500 or more years old. Also dotting the landscape is the reason that I went there.  Throughout the park, there are these mounds of rock that seem to rise out of the ground.  From afar, they have been described as piles of rock droppings.  That is somewhat fitting.  On these piles of rock there are some amazing climbs.  The rock is a granite that has a very coarse crystal structure.  This can be bad for your skin but allows you to stick to just about anything. Most of the routes tend to follow crack systems.  I loved the amount of classic vertical cracks.
Intersection Rock viewed from site 28 in the Hidden Valley Campground.

My intention was to fly out to Palm Springs on the 8th of November, rent a car, drive to Joshua Tree, then climb for about 6 days before the exam.  Well I managed to miss my flight out on the 8th, so instead I flew out on the 9th.  The one good thing about missing my flight was that it gave me one more day to train with Ron and Wes at Looking Glass.  That day I also was able to redpoint the first pitch of Out to Lunch which has a crux that was tricky for me due to my height.
One last day of training at Looking Glass

On the 9th, I arrived in Palm Springs, got a car, purchased supplies, then headed to the park.  Once there I set out to find a campsite and possibly hook up with the other guys taking the exam.  I  was unable to meet up with the two guys that I knew were there already.  Now I had to find a campsite.  This proved to be tough since it was the friday before a holiday weekend.  After searching for a while, I finally snagged a site in the Jumbo Rocks campground.  The downside to camping there is that it is further from all of the good climbing.  So the first couple of days, I would drive 15 minutes just to meet up with everyone.  It was also cold and windy my first couple of days which made life less enjoyable.  Due to the conditions, I tended to crawl into my tent around 7 and fall asleep by 8.  This led to me waking up just before sunrise most mornings. Each morning I would get out of my tent and start breakfast while enjoying the sunrise on the horizon of the desert. Joshua Trees silhouetted against a blue, yellow and red morning sky is quite a beautiful sight.

This first day that I had a chance to climb, I went on a mission to meet up with Russel and Matt.  Both guys had emailed saying that they were in Joshua Tree and told me what sites they were occupying.  I first checked Matt's site.  No luck, they had already left.  I then wandered over to Russel's site where I met a guy that he was sharing the site with.  They guy said that Russel was in town.  While talking to this gentleman, a guy named David drove up also looking for Russel. It turns out that David was a friend of Matt's.  Finally, a lead.  I went with David to meet up with Matt.  After meeting Matt, we all decided to find a climb that would allow us to be out of the wind and in the sun.  We chose two routes on Chimney Rock in the campground.  David and I did a no star 5.7 called Howard's Horror.  Never do this climb. I managed to tear a large portion of skin off of the back of my left hand when one of my hand jams slipped.  After getting off of that route; Russel, Matt, David, Teresa and I headed over to the Echo Tee area to get on some more routes in the sun.  Over there, I onsighted a fun, jug filled crack called Bacon Flake.  We also did a few other routes on that wall, one of which was a bolted face climb that left me thinking a couple of times during the climb.  To finish the day, Russel and I separated from the group and went to Lost Horse wall which was one of the few walls with multipitch routes.  We climbed a route called Roan Way. It starts with the classic Dappled Mare then heads straight up off of the second pitch anchor avoiding a downward traverse.  It was super fun with cracks that had huge holds around it. It was a great first day in Joshua Tree.
Panorama of an early morning at Hidden Valley Campground

 The next day, I hooked up with David later in the morning and we did a few routes on The Old Woman. I led Double Cross, which is an amazing climb.  Once we were off of that, Matt and Teresa met us.  We then went up Dogleg in two separate groups.  Another great climb.  I finally felt as if I was getting the feel of the rock.  The next morning, I was only able to get one route in since I had to go pick up Wes from the airport.  I followed Matt up the Orphan since he was unable to get one of his cams out of it the evening before. After meeting Wes at the airport, we gathered more supplies then went to go find the crew.  They were all in the Echo Tee area chilling at a parking area with one new guy, Jon.  Jon was one of the other guys taking the exam.  Now we knew that every one taking the exam was in the park because Russel and I had run into Rodney on Lost Horse a few days before.  From this meeting, we split up.  Jon, Russel, Wes and I headed to Lost Horse to do some more multipitch routes.  I teamed up with John on the Swift.  It was a bit crowded with the Rock Instructor Course that was going on taking up most of the routes so Wes and Russel came up the Swift right behind us.  After topping out, Jon and Wes went down the standard descent while Russel and I scouted out a possible alternative descent that Adam Fox had hold me about.  It was quite an adventure traversing the top of Lost Horse back towards the parking area.  We eventually found a rappel down into the Rock Garden area.  From there we did a lot of boulder hopping back down to the parking area.
Jon following the second pitch of The Swift

The next day was the day before the exam. We had a meeting with the examiners/instructors at 4PM but wanted to do a bit of climbing and the rescue drill that day as well. Wes and I came across Tom Hargis one of the instructors in the camp ground and he told us of some possible routes that were going to be used for the movement test and where we would be doing the rescue drill.  With that beta in mind, Wes, Jon and I headed to the possible climbs which were on the Thin Wall.  There I led up No Calculators as did Wes and Jon.  We then top roped the 5.9 to the right.  Feeling good about our movement abilities, we headed over to the Peyote Cracks area to practice the drill. There we found Matt working on the rescue drill with Teresa. After figuring out the set up, we went to it.  Everyone did the drill at least once. I managed to have my best time on the drill ever with a time of 27 minutes. After this day, I was excited for the exam.  I finally felt ready.
Practicing the rescue drill.  Jon coming down to save me.

Later that afternoon, we met up with the instructors, Angela Hawse, Tom Hargis, and Silas Rossi.  We went over the schedule, expectations, and our route assignments for the first two days. From the start, the instructors set a great atmosphere for the exam. This had me psyched. I was ready to go out and crush this exam. That night, Wes and I moved into a hotel for the duration of the exam so that we could be well rested and clean for each day of the exam.

 Stay tuned for part 2 (The Exam)

Monday, October 1, 2012


This past week, I went to Utah to visit my girlfriend, Jill.  In August she moved out there to take a teaching position at Wasatch Academy in Mount Pleasant, Utah.  It is a great little town.  Mount Pleasant is nestled in the Sanpete Valley between the San Pitch Mountain range and the Wasatch Plateau.  Though it is far from a bustling metropolis with its mere 3,600 people, it has plenty to off this guy who is also from a small town.

The main attraction for me was the outdoor recreational opportunities.  When staring up at the Wasatch Plateau with the aspens turning yellow and just below them the maples turning red, the beauty almost inspired me to go for a hike.  Then I snapped back to reality and realized I don't like hiking.

The maples in the Wasatch Range.

The second best thing about the trip was having the chance to climb in Maple Canyon.  Back in 2008 while traveling through Utah, I had the chance to climb there but had to decline so that I could get to my next destination in a reasonable amount of time.  Since then I have wanted to experience this unique type of rock.  I say it is unique in that it looks as if some kid walked through a river bed, gathered a bunch of pebbles and rocks from the bottom of the stream and then glued them to a wall of varying angles.  This conglomerate rock is very interesting to climb on.  The cobble stones create this interesting puzzle of route finding and figuring out how to use certain holds.  Also, you are always wondering if that cobble stone you are pulling on or standing on it going to come loose to send you and itself falling towards the ground.  

The first thing I noticed when I got to Maple were the maple trees.  Throughout the canyon and up on the surrounding mountains were all of these small maples trees displaying bright red fall colors.  I was lucky enough to visit when then were nearing what seemed to be the peak for the fall colors.  The next thing I noticed was the short approaches.  There were some climbs that you could potentially belay from your vehicle.  I would not recommend that due to the potential for cobble stones coming loose and breaking through your windshield.  The normal approach is 5-10 minutes on easy terrain.  This was quite different than what I had grown used to in North Carolina where you have to hike 15 minutes at the very least. 

Since I mostly climbed with Jill who is still kind of new to climbing, we did a fair amount of moderate climbs.  The first day we went to the Orangutan wall.  There we did a few 5.7's and a 5.8.  Jill cruised the 5.7's but struggled on the 5.8.  The one thing I noticed about the climbing was that these routes were hard to read.  When you have about ten options for every move but only one of them is a good option, it can take a while to find that one hold you are looking for.  Later we did a few climbs at Pipeline with some of Jill's coworkers.  There the climbs are harder and overhung.  These climbs were easier to read but were pumpy.  I ended up attempting to onsight a 5.11c only to mess up the crux move at the last bolt.  I ended up getting back on it a bit later to get it clean.

Britt toproping the 5.11 with Jill belaying

Later in the week we went back after Jill got off of work.  We did more moderates and once we were joined by Russ, we moved to some more difficult routes.  My two favorite routes were these two 5.10's at the bridge area.  They are long and slightly overhung allowing for a nice pump to develop in your forearms.  I onsighted both routes and wanted more but it was getting late.

The final day of climbing was just with Jill.  We ended up climbing at the Road Kill wall.  There we did some fun moderates and a 5.10.  The funnest route was this long 5.8.  It had a boulder problem start leading to fun moderate climbing on this exposed face.  Once above the trees you are rewarded with a great view of sections of the canyon across from you.  It was a great way to end the climbing portion of my trip.

For the rest of the time, I hung out with Jill.  On our final day, we headed up to Salt Lake to just hang out before I caught a midnight flight back to North Carolina.  Salt Lake is a nice town with plenty to offer.  The best part seems to be its quick access to the mountains.  Just to the east, you have these rugged looking mountains that offer climbing, hiking and amazing skiing.  Hopefully, one day I will be able to sample a bit of what it has to offer.

Brit and Russ's dog Eva spectating

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


As many of you have probably not noticed, I have not been writing much on here lately. This summer has been super busy for me.  I have been working almost every day this summer and when I am not working, I am trying to rest.  This has led to a long period of time in which I haven't just gone climbing for the fun of it since early June.  Today that will change.

At the moment, I am on vacation in Washington DC.  I have never been here before.  Many friends have been telling me to go check out this or that museum or monument.  As much fun as that might be, I would rather play and hang out with friends.  I am also using this time as a transition from my hectic summer with work to a time where there will be a better balance of work, play, and training.  Yes, I said it, training.  I tend to not like training.  I have never had the discipline to stick with it.  Every couple of months, I will get this itch to get stronger or in better shape.  It might last a couple of days or maybe if I am lucky a week.  During that time I might run twice and hit the climbing gym or go climb a lot.  But that soon wears off and I slump back into the norm of working some, going climbing some, and just relaxing the rest of the time.

This time will be a bit different though.  This fall I will be taking an exam that will give me a higher certification with the AMGA if I pass.  Unlike most exams people take, this thing is six days long and will challenge me physically and mentally.  This is my motivation to be in better shape.  I don't want to be worried about the physical challenges so that I can focus on all the mental challenges that will take place during those six days.

Though my plan for my time in DC was to rest and maybe start to train, that hasn't been the case.  Obviously, I felt that 8 hours in a car was enough rest for me.  As soon as I arrived on Monday, I went to the climbing gym with my friends to get a good workout.  Tuesday, I chilled most of the day but then had the chance to experience another outdoor sport that I didn't know much about, kayaking.  We paddled a section of the Potomac River where I learned the basics of flipping your boat and how to get back above water.  It was a great experience except for the flies that kept biting my arms.  This then led to today, Wednesday.  This morning I woke up early to meet my friend Kristin at 6:30 to go for a run.  We did intervals.  This felt like training rather than the relaxing run I was used to.  Then later today, I will get the chance to experience a small crag just outside of DC called Great Falls.  Who would have thought that I would get to climb outside on a trip here.

The one thing that will be a set back is that a week ago today with the summer camp, I managed to strain a ligament between the base of my right middle and ring fingers.  I am hoping it isn't too serious and that it will heal quickly.  This has been a problem of mind for a few years.  As soon as I begin to start training for climbing, I get a finger issue that takes forever to heal.  In the past it has been a deterrent to training.  Hopefully, this will motivate me to train in different ways.  I am hoping to give some reports of training days, especially those that involve climbing on here.  Also, expect a few trip reports this fall since I will actually be taking trips.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Finding a Project

Ever since I started climbing, I have always had at least one route that has caught my attention to the point where all I want to do with climbing is to climb that route from the ground up without falling.  Last year when I moved to NC I began that process again.  Here though, it took quite a while before I found a project or two that I really wanted to work.  Last June, I had found the route that I wanted to work on.  It was Pawing the Void.  For two straight days in June, Ron and I worked on this route.  The guide book calls it a 5.12c.  It is every bit of 5.12c if not harder. 

The crazy part about all of this is that the first day we tried it, I hopped on the route on the sharp end without a warm up.  Luckily, you are never pulling super hard but it was quite a difficult route to get on without physically and mentally preparing yourself on an easier route.  Since last June, Ron and I have only been on it once since.  That was until this past week.

For a while now, I have been bugging Ron to go back out there and work the route with me.  Finally, I was able to pull him away from his many other projects so that we could get back on Pawing the Void.  This route is turning out to be my main project at the moment.  With its thin edges, slopey eye-brows, and barely there holds, it will take quite an effort on my part to get the redpoint.  Most of my previous projects have been routes that crescendo in difficulty up to the crux then let off.  This route is not like that.  The first 20 feet of the route starts at 5.10 then gets up to maybe 5.11.  After that you get into the first crux section which is probably 5.12b.  After that, the route stays in the 5.12 range and has a long upper crux which causes one to basically levitate on the non-existent holds.  Then with a few final moves you are at the chains.

This week, Ron and I plan to get back on it for another session.  One thing we learned this past week was that it has to be done in the morning.  In the afternoon, it gets hit by sun and is harder to climb then.   Also, there is a route about 20 feet to the right that is also on our list of routes.  It is a 5.12a with a 5.9 unprotected beginning.  I have top roped this routes twice and it is fun.  Hopefully in the coming weeks, you will get some reports on our progress with these two great routes.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Are You Prepared?

Yesterday, I went climbing with a friend.  We were going to try to do five short multipitch routes on the South Side of Looking Glass (First Return, Second Coming, Rat's Ass, Gemini, and Zodiac.)  We hike up and start getting ready at the base of the routes.  My friend has not done a lot of leading but has shown himself to be proficient at leading on traditional gear so far, so I was going to let him lead the easier pitches on the routes.

Our first route was First Return mostly because everything else was wet in the crux sections of the climbs.  I led up to Sentry Box Ledge then brought up my friend.  Since the first pitch of First Return is the crux, I led it.  I set up the belay and bring him up.  At the belay we exchange gear and I tell him a bit about the pitch ahead.  I can see that it is slightly wet but I didn't think it would be too bad.

He headed up the pitch.  He was doing well.  He had gotten what I would consider adequate gear and was just getting into the wet stuff.  As he slowly moved up the wet holds, I could tell when he had found another place to get some gear.  A second after I see him relax a bit, I see him slip and come falling down.  I was only able to take up a little bit of rope.  Once he stopped falling I could tell that he was injured.  His posture and he was obviously in pain from his exclamations.  Since he was alert and it was only one ankle that was bothering him, I lowered him down to the belay.  There we did a quick check on the ankle.  Everything was still in the skin and it wasn't hurting him horribly.  He offered to let me finish the lead to get all my gear back.  I made sure he was cool with that, then headed up.

Upon getting to the base of the wet section I could see what happened on his fall.  The first part of the pitch is slabby terrain and where the water was, it becomes a bit more vertical.  The piece he fell on was a bomber .5 Camalot in an eyebrow.  The only problem was that it was at the beginning of the vertical section.  This means that if you fall on the vertical section you hit the slab below fairly hard.  This is what caused his injury.  I then started climbing into the wetness.  After a few moves, I was above my piece already and unsure of the footing on the wet rock.  I didn't want to risk both of us getting injured so I elected to down climb the pitch and try to get most of the gear back off of that pitch.  I did have to lead one piece.

Once back at the belay, I told my friend that I was going to lower him to Sentry Box ledge and I would rappel down.  I did this to minimize gear left on the route.  Once back at the ledge with my friend, we did a tandem rappel to the ground so that he would be able to balance against me while going down.  Once on the ground we checked out his ankle closer.  He had swelling and tenderness in a few spots.  We figured that he had sprained it pretty bad during the fall. Now we had a 3/4 of a mile hike back to the car with some of the terrain kind of blocky and steep.  I acted as a crutch on his side of the injury and he also had a walking stick we found.  This allowed him to keep all of his weight off of the bad ankle.  We made it back to the car in 1.5 hours.  Normally, this hike only takes 30 minutes.

This was the first real injury that has happened to me and a climbing partner while on a multipitch route.  In single pitch terrain, the general rescue skill you need to know is just to lower your partner back to the ground.  In multipitch settings, it can become much more difficult.  Luckily, I have worked on self rescue skills.  They are tools that I hope to never have to use but as I found out, even just something like a sprained ankle can make getting off of a route more difficult.  Also, having some form of medical training.  A requirement for my job is to have my Wilderness First Responder certification.  In the areas where we work and play, it can take quite a while to get someone to help.  If I hadn't had that training, I might have freaked out with my friends injury and called for help to carry him out on a litter.  If I would have done that, we probably would have been out there many more hours.  Since his injury was not life threatening, we simply just had to take our time to get out.

For those of you who read this and partake in adventurous activities in the outdoors, I would recommend you take a wilderness medicine course and for the climbers, take a self rescue course.  We offer such a course here at Fox Mountain Guides.  Unfortunately, many climbers don't see how important a course like this can be until it is too late.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

North Conway Ice

This year has been a less than desired winter for those people who enjoy outdoor winter activities.  Snowfall has been very minimal and average temperatures have been above average.  For some people, this is the best thing that can happen in winter.  For those of us who enjoy skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing or ice climbing it leaves us reminiscing of great winters past. Here in North Carolina, the winter has been rather disappointing.  With the number of days with climbable ice able to be counted without taking off your shoes and socks many of us were craving colder weather in which we could climb those ever evasive icicles.  Luckily, I would not be denied my chance to scratch my way up some vertical, frozen water.

In past February's, Fox Mountain Guides hosts a trip to North Conway, New Hampshire to instruct ice climbing and basic mountaineering.  This year was no different and I was given the chance to go and take care of our guests.  We rent a chalet and house the guides and the guests.  I was supposed to make sure that everyone is well fed and is comfortable while there.  That task proved to be a challenge to me since I am not the more organized person.  The upside was that I got to climb ice.  I managed to do my fair share of that.

The first couple of days, I was privileged to shadow the Ice 101 course taught by Karsten and Lindsay.  I helped out a bit and was able to pick up some tips that would later improve my ice climbing ability.  We spend a day at Cathedral Ledge, Frankenstein, and Trollville.  With three days under my belt and Lindsay having a few days off, we decided to go have our own fun on the ice.  The first day of the 201 course, Lindsay and I headed to Frankenstein to get a few laps in and to shoot some photos and video of the 201 course.  While we were there we ran a few laps on different sections of Dracula.  From there we hiked along the top and came in above the 201 crew on the Standard Route.  I belayed Lindsay as she went up and down capturing footage of the guys.

The next day, Lindsay and I headed back to Frankenstein.  There we went up Chia which is this two pitch WI3.  Very fun route.  The only problem was that it was a little warm so by the time we got to the top, the ice began to soften a bit.  From there we went over and top-roped Pegasus.  It was even better than Chia but we had to be careful with the top out since the ice had started to delaminate from the rock. We climbed quite a bit of moderate ice that day.  After this day, I was feeling more confident on the ice.

The day after climbing at Frankenstein, Lindsay had a client so I was on my own.  I managed to get some work done at the chalet before heading out and joining the 201 course.  I arrived just in time to go up a two pitch line called Thresher Slabs with Karsten and two of the guys in the course.  It was fun but didn't feel like it was enough for the day.  After walking back to the base, I decided to solo up a WI2 slab.  It was easy but I was able to find a few short vertical sections on it to up the difficulty.  Though I didn't get much in this day, Ron would be free to climb for the next few days.  Then we would be getting on some of the classic, hard routes in the area.

The first day that Ron and I climbed, we headed to Cathedral Ledge to climb a route called Remission.  It is a WI5+ with a M5 first pitch.  On this wall, there is also another classic line called Repentance.  Ron said that he had never done Remission so I willingly agreed to follow him up this classic line.  The first pitch is a corner system that you either dry-tool or climb like you would any other rock climb.  This leads to a thin section of ice before reaching the belay ledge.  When following this pitch, I attempted to dry-tool part of it and fell off when my tool slipped off the edge it was on.  After this I managed to make my way up to the belay without any problems.  The second pitch goes left off the belay.  There you clip a pin and pull your way up on to a hanging curtain.  This is the best part of the climb.  It is exposed but super solid.  After a few minutes Ron was at the belay and it was my turn to play on the ice.  After unclipping from the piton, I looked at the curtain.  It was going to be tricky for me to reach it due to my lack of height.  After some awkward moves I was established on the curtain and making my way up the ice to Ron. The third pitch, which is said to be the crux, goes up this steep column into a chimney with ice in the back.  Ron quickly dispatched the column but while climbing the chimney, I would occasionally hear grunting.  This worried me just a bit.  Once Ron made it to the belay I began my journey up.  The column was fun and exposed.  Once in the chimney I was able to see why Ron was grunting.  With many awkward moves to good stances, the chimney takes quite a while to climb.  At the top you have to come out and around a chockstone which creates a few more tricky moves.  At the top of the third pitch you can either rappel or continue up and walk off.  We were going to walk off so we continued up one more pitch.  It goes deeper into the chimney then has some crazy moves that put you on a snow/ice covered low angled terrain.  Getting out of the chimney proved to provide a few more hard moves for the route.  After making it to the top, we followed the cliff line to the north towards the walk down.  Once back at the base of the cliff, I led a WI3 which is one of the North End Pillars.  It was fun.

The next day, Ron had a route in mind that he had tried to find the year before called Drool of the Beast.  It is a WI5 located near Greeley Lake.  After a mile and a half hike in, we were finally able to see it.  Now we just had to figure out how to get there.  We continued hiking up the main trail until we spotted a slightly used path of potholes in the snow.  I figured this was the trail.  It did include a bit of a bushwack though.  Once we arrived at the base, we noticed one thing;  this climb was in the sun and it was not that cold.  The first section of the climb looked rather thin but once you were up about 25 feet, the ice was thicker.  Ron started up.  Luckily, he found good rock gear since the ice at the beginning was not taking any screws.  The only issue was that the ice was falling apart.  After doing an amazing job with leading this challenging pitch, Ron put me on belay.  I got to the thin ice in a wide chimney.  The ice was no longer solid.  It had turned to slush.  I was moving from rock to slush and back to rock to get to the good ice.  Once at the good ice, I took out one of the few good screw placements on the route trying to not get soaked by the melting of the route above.  I continued to climb up the less than idea ice.  The last 30 feet of the route is a steep section that is about 3-4 feet wide.  It was also a bit slushy but was deep enough that I was able to bury the ice tool in it so that it would be solid.  Finally, after a daunting sprint up the final bit I made it up to the top.  After this, we got out of there knowing that it would not be safe to climb anything else that day due to the warm conditions.

The final day that I would climb one of the classic lines, Ron and I did Repentance.  It is a WI5 to the left of Remission.  It is mostly ice climbing with a finish that will challenge you.  Ron offered to let me lead the first pitch which goes at WI4.  Since I felt this was still a bit above my head for leading, I declined and allowed Ron to lead it.  Ron also led the second pitch which had this hanging curtain which we had to figure out how to get our feet onto it since there was a 3.5 foot gap between the curtain and where the stance was below it.  When I arrived at the top of the second pitch, Ron asked if I would lead up to a ledge about 20 feet higher.  He said that his belay was uncomfortable and with the crux pitch looming above us I would be better off at the nicer ledge.  After thinking about it for a minute I grabbed some gear from Ron and headed up.  The ice was interesting.  I managed to stem between it and the rock on the left.  Finally, after a little bit I traversed left towards the ledge.  The only odd part was that there was no ice to swing at.  I eventually stuck my axes in the ice on the belay ledge, then rock climbed the rest of it.  Ron then led the last pitch.  It went smoothly.  It was my turn.  I had seen this pitch before on a few videos.  I knew what the top of this pitch held for me.  Yet, when I arrived at the rock roof I was unsure how to get into it.  Eventually I fell off.  After some scraping with the tools, I was able to struggle my way to the top.

After spending a few days with Ron climbing these classic, hard lines; we were joined by another friend.  We got two more days in together.  I ended up leading another WI3.  In my 13 days up in New Hampshire, I was able to get out and climb 11 of them.  This trip was a great chance for me to improve on my technique on ice.  I was able to learn a lot from people like Ron, Karsten and Lindsay.  Being back here in North Carolina with the weather looking as if it will not bring us any more ice, we have been getting back into rock mode.  Since I have been back, I have abused my body on the rock getting back in shape.  Hopefully soon, you will read of some great days on the rock.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Review: Bonhoeffer; Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Not very often do I read a book that I feel compelled to write a blog post about it.  The last one I did was on a biography of Thomas Merton.  Once again, I am writing about a biography I read.  This time it is on a man whose convictions led him to do many drastic things in his life.  This man was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. 

A few years ago, I read one of his prized works, The Cost of Discipleship.  It was a great book and had a great breakdown of the Sermon on the Mount found in the gospel of Matthew.  In it there was a brief history of Bonhoeffer.  I was captivated by the few pages written about this man who had written the book I was about to read.  Somehow in my studies in college, I never heard much about this man.  Since then, I had desired to learn more of this man that became a martyr during the rule of the Third Reich.

While I was at a friend's house around Christmas, I noticed this thick, blue book with the word Bonhoeffer written in white letters on the spine.  I pulled the book off of the shelf to take a look.  This interested me.  Here is this massive biography of a man that I want to learn more about.  After forcing myself to not open the book and start reading at that moment, I placed it back on the shelf and logged it into my memory as something I must read one day.  A few days later I find myself at the bookstore hoping to find The Crucified God by Moltmann.  They didn't have it.  I should not have expected a normal books store to have in stock a book that even most Christians know nothing about.  What did catch my eye that night was the thick, blue book with Bonhoeffer written in white on the spine.  I quickly picked up that book and proceeded to the check out.

This book quickly sucked me in to the story and life of Dietrich.  Though it starts off with a bit of a history not of Dietrich himself, but of his family and lineage.  We learn that his grandfather was a great theologian, that his father was an honored psychiatrist of the day and of many other family members that were influential during their own lives in Germany.  From the start this man is from good, German stock.  Something that one of his opponents would have been proud.  We also get a great glimpse into the early life of Dietrich and the rest of his immediate family.  One thing that is very clear from the start, this family was very close, they were well educated but also knew how to enjoy the wonderful things in life.

While Dietrich was still young, World War I broke out.  Metaxas, the author, gives a great view into the historical and sociological context during this period of Germany.  With the defeat of Germany in the war and the restrictions placed upon them from the treaties, Germans felt humiliated.  This led to many changes in government and how daily life happened after the war.

The author also notes the brilliance of Bonhoeffer during his academic career.  During this time, classical liberalism, particularly in the field of theology was the popular view.  He was one of the few that opposed those views but did so with great dignity and respect from his teachers and colleagues.  After achieving his doctorate in his early 20's Bonhoeffer began traveling to work with congregations in different parts of the world.  His travels took him to Rome, Spain, America, and London.  These travels influenced his love of the art and his enthusiasm for the ecumenical movement.  It was fascinating to see how all of this information shaped this young man.

As most you will know, the National Socialists (Nazis) came into power under the leadership of Adolf Hitler.  As time went on, this government would slowly change the government, society, and church in Germany.  Bonhoeffer was one of those that opposed the changes made particularly within the church.  Along with other pastors and leaders, they began the Confessing Church.  Dietrich also used his ecumenical ties with pastors and leaders in England, Switzerland, and American to let the world know of the horrors that were happening in Germany during this time.

Through all of this, the Nazis became more powerful and started to use their forceful tactics to get people to fall in line.  Eventually, Bonhoeffer traveled back to the U.S. to teach and lecture.  This was short lived because he knew his place was in Germany with his suffering brothers.  Through a friend, he was able to become a government agent for Germany.  He used this position to eventually rebel against the Third Reich.  Many of those people that Bonhoeffer was close to were a part of the resistance even though they were high ranking military and government officials.  They also planned many assassination attempts on Hitler, with them all failing.  After the failed attempt on July 20, 1944, which the movie Valkyrie is based, many in the resistance were arrested, Bonhoeffer included.  Eventually, he was killed only days before the camp he was being held in was liberated by the Allies.

Though he is known for his resistance to the Nazis, that is not what stood out to me the most.  It seemed that everywhere he went, he enjoyed life and took every opportunity to learn new things, broaden his knowledge and impact the people he was in charge of.  While he was a professor in Berlin, he would often invite his students to "hang out" as it were.  He became involved in their lives.  He did this same thing with a class of confirmants he was assigned to.  This also led to similar practices when he started two illegal seminaries in Germany.  I also enjoyed what seemed to be a great balance of academia along with living his life as close to what Jesus did.

Though I feel that I told you a great deal about his life, the details found in the book bring this man to life in the words of the pages.  After a few chapters, I felt connected to this man who lived over 70 years ago.  I hope that you will be able to read this book in the near future.  I would say that it was one of the best books I have read in my life.  I have said that about many previous readings but none have been so inspiring as this.  If you have read it, tell me what you though about it.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Ice Climbing

The year was 2007.  I was less than a year out of college and I still had no idea what direction my life was taking.  At the end of the year, I took a trip out to Colorado with two climbing partners, David and Scott.  Our goal was to climb some ice.  This trip was slightly intimidating to me.  I had never climbed ice before.  Also, I had never been to Colorado before this trip.  Little did I know that it would be the first of many trips to this great state.  On the drive out I soaked in as much information on how to ice climb.  I knew that you would swing these weapon like tools into the ice, then kick your crampons into the ice and move up that way.  Basically, that is what you do but there are other more finite nuances that can help improve your skills on this frozen medium.

After a few days of seeing ice and not climbing it due to either snow or weather conditions we continued on to Ouray, CO.  There in this small mountain town in southwestern Colorado, there is a premier ice park.  Basically, they take this box canyon on the edge of town and make ice flows every 15-20 feet along an entire side of the canyon.  There is so much ice and it tends to get fat quick.  This would be my chance to learn in a convenient location.  It isn't often that you can walk 5 minutes from your hotel and be gearing up at the top of your climb.  During this trip, I top-roped many pitches of ice up to WI5*.  Buy the end of the trip I was hooked and couldn't wait until the next chance I would have to get back on ice.

Though ice forms in certain places in the midwest, I had one thing keeping me from seeking it out.  I had no ice climbing gear except the used mountaineering boots that I purchased while in Colorado.  Finally, in the winter of 2010/2011 I had the necessary gear to go out and top-rope ice.  I had boots, crampons, and axes.  I was set.  Luckily, some ice formed up in southern Illinois.  I spent one day playing on the frozen waterfalls.  Soon after that, the temperatures began to rise which quickly melted the waterfalls we had climbed.  This led us back to climbing on rock.  This one day of climbing did rekindle my desire to get on ice.

A few months after that day of climbing ice I moved to North Carolina.  It was then that I heard about the ice climbing opportunities here in the south.  Already in April I was wanting winter to arrive and the ice to form up.  Back in November was the first time I saw any ice here.  One morning Karsten asked me if i wanted to go check on the conditions of the ice on Highway 215 near the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I readily hopped in the car and we took off.  It was thin and barely there but just the sight of ice got me psyched.

This was going to be the year that I progress in my ice climbing.  Since ice climbing can be a much more dangerous activity than rock climbing, more care is taken to avoid injuries.  In ice climbing you are told that when leading you do not fall.  This is mostly because while climbing ice you have around two dozen spikes attached to you.  In a leader fall those spikes could catch on the ice, resulting in a sprained or broken leg or one of those spikes could find itself piercing through a piece of your clothing and into your skin.  Neither of these options sound like something I desire to do.  Because of this, I had never led any ice.  Also, I do not own the proper equipment to lead ice.  In ice climbing you place ice screws into the good parts of the ice.  As long as the ice is of decent quality, those screws will hold a fall if you happen to slip, which you should try to avoid.  Little did I know that this would all change shortly.

Finally, the ice formed up enough to climb it.  At that same time, my friend Caroliegh came up from Georgia to climb.  I asked her if she wanted to go ice climbing.  A little reluctant at first since she doesn't enjoy the cold, she soon agreed.  The morning we were going to go ice climbing, Ron, one of the other guides here at Fox, texted me and asked if we were still going climbing and wanted to join.  This was nice since Ron has more experience on ice than I do.  We met up with Ron and started the drive up 215.  Little did I know that we were not going to climb at the main walls on 215.  When Ron instructed me to continue past them while driving I knew he had something better planned.  This sometimes scares me.  Ron has been on of those guys who is always up for an adventure and also pushes me more than most people.  He then told us that we were going to do a climb called Creek Stomp.

We continue driving north on 215 past the parkway and back down hill in Haywood county.  After a few miles, Ron tells me to pull off along side the road.  We gear up then begin a hike into the woods.  Ron had told me about a previous trip here he took with Lindsay, another guides, where they went up the wrong gully and were forced to do some nasty bushwacking to crest a ridge to the proper gully.  After hiking for about ten minutes up the gully Ron voiced concern that he may have led us into the wrong gully.  He then scouted ahead while Caroliegh and I waiting.  Luckily, he soon found the beginning of the ice and we headed up to meet him.  Once we caught up, we started to put our harnesses and crampons on.  I was then informed that I would have the chance to practice my short-roping skills on ice.  I was not expecting this but hey, I could use the practice.  While I prepared my coils for short-roping, Ron began instructing Caroliegh on how to use the crampons.  We made our way up the low angled frozen creek until we caught up with Ron at a sheet of vertical ice.  I was stoked.  Finally, we would get to swing our tools.  When I arrived, Ron pointed out that there were already ice screws with quickdraws in the ice.  He had soloed up and placed the screws on this pitch for me to lead up.  Time to pinkpoint this pitch

I headed up.  It was a very chill pitch.  I would guess it goes at WI2.  After a few screws, the angle lessens.  I continued up with no protection, I didn't get any more screws from Ron, to a tree that is used as a rappel station.  There I belayed Caroliegh up while Ron climbed along side her to help her out.  While we were at the rappel station, you could hear Bella below whining.  Bella had ascended the slope next to the creek which was just a snow covered hill.  Now with a wall of ice impeding her ascent she became unhappy.  Until suddenly, a very happy looking dog appeared in the brush next to us.  It was Bella.  She found an alternate route to the side of the vertical ice.  We continued up the creek from there to another wall of ice.  This one was taller and steeper than the first.  When I arrive Ron has this goofy looking grin on his face which means that I get to lead this one as well.

This pitch, according to Ron, is a WI3.  It has four vertical sections broken up by good stances.  I started climbing.  At the first stance, I placed my first screw.  Then I continued up the next vertical section.  During this part I began to get wet from the climb dripping on me.  I reach the second stance and place another screw.  Things are looking good.  From here I head up to the third stance and place my third screw.  Here I chill out for a little bit and scope out the best way to the top of the climb.  The next section, I traverse to the left to surmount the next vertical section to the last stance.  At the last stance, I am only a few moves from the top of the pitch. I considered placing a screw here but chose not to mostly because I just wanted to get to the top quickly.  I start up the last section.  I am able to reach past some ice that isn't that great but I must use it for my feet.  Right before pulling the lip to the top, My left foot comes off the ice.  Luckily, my axes are in good so I grip down and pull myself up just a bit to get my feet back on good ice.  One or two moves later and I am standing up top of my first true ice lead.  From there I brought Caroliegh up.  Ron made his way up by some other means.  At the top of this pitch we decided to head back to the car then get a lap or two in at 215.  We rappelled down and made our way back to the car.

This day got me very excited for the trip that Fox Mountain Guides is taking to New Hampshire in February. I just hope I will have time to get out and climb a lot. It is going to be a great trip.  If you would like to learn about how you can join us feel free to contact me.

*WI is the prefix for a Water Ice rating.  this link will give you a good description of ratings.