Thursday, April 18, 2013

Random Trip to the New River Gorge

Since moving to North Carolina, I have taken very few personal climbing trips. Most of the trips taken have involved work, training, courses or exams. After being fairly busy for the past two weeks, I had a few days off and no one with which to climb in North Carolina. My friend Tracy told me to head up to the New River Gorge and climb with her. So the next morning I wake up early and start my 4.5 hour drive north.

I arrived around noon. It would have been sooner but there were some complications with the drive. I met up with Tracy and Spencer at Whippoorwill.  There we got on a few routes before we headed back to town. One great route we did while there was Wendy's Jugs. It is a beautiful 5.7 that is on an arete. It is a little steep with huge hold and a great position.

Later that afternoon I began to get restless sitting in town while Tracy did some work so I headed to the Junkyard by myself. it had easy top access and some great looking lines. I did a rope solo of a fun 5.7 called New River Gunks. After that, I set up a toprope on Team Jesus 5.10 and New Yosemite 5.9, which I did two laps because it was so good. In just one afternoon, I had done eight pitches.

The next day, Tracy and I headed to the Lower Meadow. There we warmed up on a fun 5.9 with a tricky crux. Then Tracy pointed out this 5.10d called Chimpanzabubbas. As soon as I saw it I knew I had to get on it. It was some fun flake climbing to a ledge. Once on the ledge you clip a bolt as you ponder how to pull the crux which is staring you in the face. After looking at and feeling the holds for what felt like half an hour I reached super high to a good hold that I thought was just out of my reach and powered through the crux. After the crux, you make a few more moved before you get to a steep and juggy headwall. Tracy then followed the route and we made our way to the left checking out different routes.

We settled on a route called Tarbaby, an 11a that was in the shade. I headed up first. About 20 feet up there is a nice ledge before the climbing really starts. Well I made many trips up and down from this ledge. I would climb up, place gear, check out the next section, then climb back to the ledge to rest. Finally, I go to do the crux but I can't figure out how to grab the hold I need to move off of. Finally, I just take on my piece right there. After looking at the crux for a few seconds I fire it without a problem. After the crux, I am well above my last piece when a foothold broke on me. That scared me enough to place a piece before continuing to the anchors. I then cleaned the gear off the route so that Tracy could give it a go. She flashed it like it was nothing. So I then had to go get the redpoint which wasn't too bad. After we did that route, Tracy wanted to climb this thing to the left that wasn't in the guidebook just to see if it would be a good route to guide. It was fun with a tricky 5.8-5.9 crux. Right before we did this, we were joined by Jonny.

After we got back down from this route, I decided to give Toxic Hueco a try. With it being 5.11c I figured I wouldn't have too much trouble with it but onsighting it would prove to be difficult. Well, I made it to the third bolt before I was getting tired. Luckily, Jonny had shown up so that I could top rope the route. The route stays at you with a few distinct cruxes then easier endurance climbing to the top. To finish the day Tracy led By the Way, I did your Mom, a beautiful 5.10b. I followed it to cool down. It was a great day of climbing that showed me that I need to work on my endurance again.

That night I was able to sample some of the pizza at Pies and Pints. It is a sweet joint with great pizza. Check it out.

The next day, I had until about noon to get my pump on, so Tracy and I headed to the Junkyard. There we warmed up on New Yosemite then moved to the Entertainer. The Entertainer is a fun 5.10a with a funky start that leads to fun face climbing.  We then moved over to Stuck in Another Dimension. This 11a looks super burly. It a crack that goes from offwidth to chimney to maybe hands all before you get to the roof where the business supposedly gets real. I wouldn't know. After the butt kicking from the day before I elected to save it for another day when I have more energy. Instead I did the 5.9 to the left, V- Slot. For a 5.9 it has some interesting moves that will keep you thinking the entire way up this awkward climb. We then finished on Four Sheets to the Wind. For anyone that climbs 5.9 comfortably, lead this route. It is a great overhanging corner that will hold your attention the entire way.

Soon after climbing, I started my drive back to NC. I had a great time sampling some of the routes at the New River Gorge. I would suggest that you get up there and have a taste of the great sandstone it has to offer. Also, in May is the 10th New River Rendezvous. I will be there giving clinics and enjoying the festivities. I am sure that it will be a great event.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

My Engagement

In my last post, I mentioned that in December I asked a lovely young lady named Jill to marry me. Many of you who read this probably already know that I did this. But what most of you don't know is the story of that day. Throughout the day, I thought that I had blown it and that she would never say yes. So here you will find a quick back story to our relationship and that crazy day we became engaged.

Jill and I met at an REI Adventures weekend where I was the guide.  On those weekends, we take the clients climbing and camping in Pisgah National Forest. Jill and her younger sister Kelsey were on one of those trips. My first impression of Jill and Kelsey were that they were late. Jill says they were on time but I clearly remember waiting for them to show up. The weekend went like any other weekend. The guests had fun and on Sunday afternoon we parted ways. Unbeknownst to me, Jill left with a huge crush on me. A few days later, I get a friend request from her on Facebook. I didn't think anything of it. Many times, I try to friend the people I take climbing so that we can stay in contact afterwards. Well as it turns out, she was using Facebook to find out information about me.

After returning home, she figured that I was not single and that I was not a Christian so she tried to write me off as someone that she will not date. She was surprised by what she saw on my page. I was single and I am a Christian. We started corresponding on Facebook soon after. Mid-summer, she was going to be giving some lectures in Greenville, SC which isn't too far away from Brevard and she asked me out to dinner. I was unsure if it was a date or just a friendly meeting. Well it turned out that it was a date. We had a great time and ended up hanging out the next two days as well. Our relationship had started.

Fast forward to December. She was coming to North Carolina for her Christmas break from teaching in Utah and I knew that I wanted to be with this woman. So I got a ring and had started making plans for asking her. I figured that since we met doing an outdoors activity that our engagement should have that element in it. Of course I wanted climbing but was unsure still. I remember having a conversation with my good friend Ron about this. He suggested either a summit or a valley. Both have their perks. With a summit, you have the whole world before you. And with a valley, you are closed into a more intimate setting of closeness.  I chose summit. But which summit?

Through discussion, I found out that she had been to Table Rock before and enjoyed the hike to the top. Who wouldn't, it is a moderate hike that is about a mile from the parking lot. Once at the summit, you are rewarded with great views of Linville Gorge, Hawksbill to the north, and the Blue Ridge Mountains. So instantly, my thoughts zeroed in on making a plan to climb the East Face of Table Rock to the top and there on the top I would ask her to marry me. Jill had some a few multipitch climbs with me before and though she has had some issue with heights, they last for a second then she continues on. The plan was set. Now I just had to keep my cool that day.

That morning, we set out around 7:30 to head to Table Rock. It was a great drive until we got part way up Highway 221. It was there that I remembered that Jill tends to get motion sick on curvy roads. I do my best to take it easy. By the time I hit 181, Jill is starting to get curled up in the passenger seat. Then we finally hit the gravel road that leads to Table Rock. This was not good. Jill is curled up in a ball making noises but not talking for fear of throwing up. Finally, after what seems like forever we arrive at the parking lot. Jill gets out of the car and sits on a parking block near my car. I let her regroup herself. Finally, when she is feeling better we head to the base of the climbs. During the approach, I keep asking if she is excited. I can hardly contain myself but she is not as excited.

We get to the first pitch of the day. We are going to do Jim Dandy up to Lunch Ledge. From there I wanted to do either My Route or the Block Route. The first pitch goes great. I give her a kiss then I head up the second pitch. The second pitch, though easier, is more exposed. She does well until she is within sight of me. There she has a bit of fear creep up on her. She tells me to shut-up as I try to comfort her from 30 feet away. She gets up to the belay and we take a minute to chill out. I ask her if she still loves me. Lucky she responds with a yes. I then head up the third pitch to Lunch Ledge. Once Jill gets up there we take a good long break, eat lunch and discuss what to do next. I figured we would do the Block route instead of My Route because the second pitch of My Route would not be good for her.

Once we are ready, I head up the pitch. It is only 5.5 but has this one section that is tricky and a bit exposed. I then start to bring Jill up. She gets a few moves below "the block" when I start to hear some whimpers. Because of the block I am unable to see her. I try to talk to her but she is not happy with the situation. I am worried. I start thinking, "Have I ruined the day?" "We could descend but that would mean having to hike to the top." "Should I still ask her?"

Finally, I am able to talk to her a bit in her flustered state. I ask her what she wants me to do. Her response is, "I want to get off of this rock. The only way off of this f@%&ing rock is to f!@#ing go up." Now I had never heard her cuss like this before so I knew she was not super happy with the situation. I then ask if she wants me to pull her up through this section. She replied with a very firm yes. I thought, "Sweet! I can do this." I didn't even put on a haul system. I just pulled on her rope and pulled her up with brute force. After a bit more climbing, she was up on the ledge with me where the exposure quickly disappears thanks to trees and bushes. From here, we do a bit of walking and scrambling to the top. I then rig her for short roping to the top since some of the scrambling sections are exposed. She enjoyed this part of the day. Once up top, we walk to the north end of the summit.

On the summit, we take off the gear and get organized. I notice that there is a fuzzy little mouse watching us in the nearby bushes. Jill is sitting on a rock so I sit down next to her after packing up the gear. I once again ask her if she still loves me. And of course she does. I then sneakily find the ring in my pack and pull it out of the case. At this point, I am getting nervous. I know she will say yes but still, I am about to ask a question that will affect the rest of my life. Finally, I get the nerve up to ask. The funny part was that I don't think I every fully asked her. I pull the ring out into view and ask, "will you?" Next thing I know she wraps me up in arms and kisses me. I interpreted this as "Yes! I will gladly marry you." We then spend a few minutes on the summit enjoying the moment, the moment when we decided to spend the rest of our lives together. We also snapped a few pictures on my phone. I also remember telling the fuzzy little mouse that I will be marrying this lady next to me. We then hike down and talk about our upcoming wedding.
Right after I asked Jill to marry me.

Once back at the parking lot, I let Jill drive to help with the motion sickness. Near the end of the paved road leaving the parking lot, we stop and look up at the East Face. I showed Jill where we had climbed. She then remarks that this was the highest that she had ever climbed. I do have to hand it to this woman. She loves me enough to put herself through things that are not as enjoyable for her as they are for me. She is always open to trying out new adventures.

Since that day, we have been planning our wedding day. It has been a bit difficult with Jill living in central Utah but she has been doing a great job of it. I am excited for it. It will present new challenges in life but I am excited about them. I am also excited about not knowing what all the future has for us but that whatever it is we will get to do them together.  Just a few days ago, we past the date the marked six months until our wedding which is on August 17th. I was able to spend it with Jill in Utah. Though I have been able to see Jill once a month since we started this relationship, I am looking forward to not having to travel across the country to see her.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Fox Mountain Guides in New Hampshire

It has been quite a while since I last posted something. This winter has been somewhat uneventful. A friend recently asked me why I haven't posted anything since I posted about the Rock Instructor Exam. I then said that nothing has really happened. I was referring to climbing but as I was soon reminded, a major life event happened that I failed to write about; I got engaged. Maybe in the future I will sit down and write about that event but for now we will talk about some more current events.

I just got back from New Hampshire where I once again enjoyed two weeks of great ice climbing with my amazing colleagues from Fox Mountain Guides. Like last year, I was placed in charge of cooking and managing the cabin. Last year, I learned a lot about the job and was psyched to try and take it up a notch. It did prove to be just as difficult if not more difficult than last year. This year, I was focusing on improving my leading ability on ice and filly my ice climbing resume.  Doing my work and trying to get the amount of climbing in was quite the task. Many days this left me rushing from climbing to shopping to cooking.  Either way, I enjoyed being able to cook for everyone. Now, on to the climbing part.

Ron and I arrived midday on the 30th of January. Once we got into town, we met up with the rest of the crew; Karsten, Lindsay, and Cristin. We did a few climbs at Trollville that were super fun. As we were finishing up, it started raining. The forecast had called for rain and warmer temps for the next 24 hours. This could really mess up our plans since rain destroys ice.  That night, I tried lobster for the first time. Much to everyone's dismay, I did not think that lobster was that great. The next day, we were scheduled to have a guides training day. Since the weather did not cooperate, we had a training at the Frontside Grind, a coffee shop in North Conway. The training them moved to the ice which surprisingly was still there. The rain had melted quite a bit of the ice and snow which limited our choices that afternoon but I was able to take Cristin and Karsten up a route at Cathedral Ledge to do some on ice training. Soon after that finished, my duties began. I went to the store with Cristin, got two cart loads of groceries, then headed back to the cabin to get supper started.

The next day, Cristin and I headed out to get some climbing in. I would be leading my first complete multipitch ice route with Cristin following. I chose Standard Route at Frankenstein as our plan. It seemed that nearly everyone else chose that as well.  Either way, we eventually started up the route and made our way to the top. Other than being a bit hollow at the top, the route was superb. We then did one easy single pitch route to finish the day out before heading back.
View of Mt. Washington from the tracks at Frankenstein

On the 2nd, I had the opportunity to do some instructional work. That day, I was able to teach our guest, Mac about placing screws, leading ice, ice anchors and just get more time on the ice. It was a super fun day. We also had some entertainment provided by an extended family with "Uncle Bob" taking everyone ice climbing. Judging from their accents, they were from the Boston area and some of them had not spent much time outdoors. The best thing, which I regret not getting a picture of was of a woman climbing the route they had set up in platform boot which strap-on crampons on, snake print flaring jeans, and cotton gloves. After this, Mac and I headed over to do a fun two pitch climb called the Thresher Slabs.
Karsten got a sweet picture of me leading at Trollville

The next day, Cristin and I headed up to do Hitchcock Gully on Mt. Willard. I had read some stuff on this climb and it sounded amazing. What it failed to mention was the slogging up a rock and ice filled gully when there is not much snow. Other than that, the climb is amazing. The pitches are great WI2/3 climbing with a bit of rock mixed in there for some spice. That evening, the Ice 101 course wrapped up. The 201 would start the next day and Karsten asked if I would help. I quickly jumped on the chance to help.
Cristin on the second pitch of Hitchcock Gully

The first day of the 201 course, we headed to Trollville. There we worked on doing harder climbs and a bit of drytooling. Karsten had me lead three of the main ice routes there with each one coming in around WI4. The first was a thin route in a corner. The next was a corner that had thicker ice with sections that involved a lot of hooking. The last one goes up to a roof, pulls the roof with some amazing hooks then climbs near vertical ice to the top. Later in the day, we worked on some advanced movement on ice and did a little bit of drytooling on an M7. I also joined the 201 course the next day. We headed to Champney Falls. It is a bit of hike back to this little slot canyon but was worth it. On the right side of the canyon, there are many ice climbs from WI3 to WI5/M4. I led a route on the right side while Karsten set up a route on the left called Champin' at the Bit. It is a WI5/M8+ according to the guidebook. It follows thin ice up a steep section on the wall and has some sections of rock that you much navigate.  We had a great day despite it being quite cold there. The next day, I took a rest day.
Stuart climbing some thin ice at Trollville
The 201 crew at Trollville

Garrett practicing his dry tooling

At this point, I have been in New Hampshire a week and have gotten a ton of climbing in and I am super psyched to get at least one more good day in before the AIARE level 1 course starts. Cristin and I head to Frankenstein again to climb Chia, Pegasus, and Dracula if we have time. We arrive to great conditions in the amphitheater. We are out of the wind, the air temps are cold but we are in the sun for the first route, Chia. Chia is a  1 or 2 pitch WI3 that has a ton of fun climbing on it. On the upper section you traverse right following a ramp that take you over this exposed section which is a ton of fun. After that, we headed over to Pegasus which was in the shade. I had figured I would do it in two pitches so that I could bring Cristin up while I eye that last bit which is a bit harder. Well I did it all in one pitch. The funnest part was topping out the pillar at the top. I start to surmount the bulge at the top and find myself staring into a huge hole in the back of the pillar formed from the water running behind it. I managed to step around the hole and finish the route. When Cristin got to the hole she was more surprised than I was and found it very interesting. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough time to head over to Dracula so we headed out.

The next couple of days involved Ron, Cristin and I taking an AIARE Level 1 course. It was recommend that I take this course so I signed up. It was a great course. In it we spent time in the classroom discussing terrain that is prone to avalanches and how the weather effects the snow pack in a way to make avalanches more or less likely. On the second day, we spent some time doing companion rescues with beacons, probes and shovels. It was a lot of fun but very cold that day. A snow storm had just finished and the winds were howling at the top of Crawford Notch were we were. The next day, we met in Pinkham Notch discussed the avalanche forecast for Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines on Mt. Washington. We then hiked the 2.4 miles up to Hermit Lake.  There we met with the avalanche forecasters and watched a demonstration they did with their avalanche dogs. We then hiked up into the Ravine and did some snow work. After all of this we did another companion rescue scenario where after finding the "victim" I got to play the victim and get strapped to a ski sled. This reminded me of my WFR course where I had the same injury, tib/fib fracture, and I got to lay in the snow for an extended period of time. Unfortunately, I didn't ski up the mountain so I also didn't get to ski down. Three of us walked back down the mountain while the rest skied down. We then had a bit more classroom time. It was a great course.
Ron staying warm during companion rescues

Heading up to Tuckerman Ravine

Panoramic view of Tuckerman Ravine

The final day, I didn't ice climb. Ron, wanted to go skiing and since I had never skiied before decided I would join him on the slopes that day. I had never skied before. Back in college, I spent a few days in Whistle snowboarding but I was not prepared for this. I buy my lift ticket and get fitted with gear and head out to the lifts. I had gotten a case of tunnel vision and failed to see the lift for the beginners section. Instead I hopped on the lift to the top and figured that I could do this. Well, after many falls within the first few minutes I had quite a scare. Only 20 minutes into the run, I took a fall that torqued my right knee enough to cause some pain. I got out of my bindings and limped towards the edge to get out of the way of other skiers. After assessing it for a few minutes and realizing it was nothing major, I started to get back into the bindings when Ron showed up. He gave me a few pointers for the rest of the run after stating his surprise to see me at the top of the hill. Eventually, I made it back to the base. There I went inside to chill a bit before hitting the beginners slope to figure things out. I then did multiple laps down the beginners run. Feeling more confident, I headed back to the top. I did two more laps on an easy run all the way down the mountain before retiring for the day.

Once Ron was done, we headed to the cabin to get clean and pack the van, we were staring our 18 hour drive home at 5pm.  After many hours and a bivy in a shopping center parking lot, we made it to back to North Carolina. I was surprised to find that I was excited to be back in my humble apartment. Honestly, I think I was ready for a few days of relaxing and not having to do anything. As I write this, I am preparing to leave after being home for only a few days. I am heading to Utah to visit my fiance, Jill. While I am there, I will hopefully be able to get a few pitches in on some of the frozen stuff. If not that is ok. I will be in a beautiful place with a beautiful woman that I love.