Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Taking Lead In The Catskills

I’ve been going back and forth the past few days about what area in the Catskills I’m going to climb next. Doug and I discussed Buttermilk Ravine, and I was pretty set on going there until about a week ago when I got this itch to try some really hard ice.  My wife and I are going climbing together in the Catskills in February, with a guide, and I was thinking if I get some really hard laps under my belt I’d be good with leading short and easy stuff my day out with her. Doug let me know that I’d be climbing either with him, or Dustin.  The night before, I sent him a text asking about conditions and he let me know he was in the Devil’s Kitchen assisting with a nighttime photo-shoot.  He said the Kitchen was in great shape and that he’s staying there late to help out with the rigging, so he’ll need a rest day.  I went to his house in the morning to meet up with Dustin, and Doug encouraged us to head into Plate Cove (the Devil’s Kitchen is located in this area) since the ice there was super fat.

I’ve only been to the Kitchen once, and I’m certain as we hike in that we’re going in a different way than I went before. Instead of rappelling in from the Upper Kitchen, we descended a series of switchbacks and follow a creek until we were standing on a frozen pool of water and looking out across the canyon at Tiers of Joy (WI3-4). I was thinking, wow this looked pretty rad, while Dustin uncoiled a rope for us to rappel down. I’m still oblivious to where we are at this point, and as I’m rappelling I’m expecting to see rock or some marginal ice. But as I look to my left there’s a roaring waterfall gushing under and over cascading ice. And directly in front of and all around me is fat ice. It’s not until I touch down that Dustin tells me this is Bride Veil Falls (WI3). 

Looking at Tiers of Joy (WI4) from the top of Bride Veil Falls
Dustin pulls the rope, leads up, and belays me from the top.  I finish and say to him, “I feel like I could lead that”.  He tells me to go down and climb it again, this time using one tool.  And I do it.  Pretty easily, actually.  I know that I can lead it, for sure.  I know that I’m absolutely solid on this ice. But, I’m a little hesitant.  I’m not afraid, but I know if I do it I’m 100% committed.  I decide to let it marinate and we cross over the creek to Tiers of Joy.

TOJ looks intimidating.  It’s taller than Bride Veil Falls, more sustained, and definitely more exposed.  Dustin points out all the rest stances and reminds me to take advantage of them as well as to take in the exposure and relax.  I do as he says.  I still get nervous and I’m pretty tired while cleaning the last two screws but I’m mindful to remain calm and take in the scenery, which helps keep me in control.  Still, I’m over gripping my tools.  I’m still struggling with this rookie mistake when nervous or on strenuous ice.  I really need to focus on having control over my grip or I’ll just end up burning out my arms. 
Climbing Tiers of Joy
I tell Dustin let’s not wait.  While we’re here, and while my arms are still fresh, I’m going to lead Bride Veil Falls.  This is my second time leading ice.  My first leads were last year, up two WI2 gullies at The Narrows.  This lead is a grade harder, with longer and steeper sections, and unlike the gullies that both ended on flat terrain near tree anchors, this climb will end with a snowy top out.  We go over the plan (which way I’ll go, and how we’ll finish), I take 5 ice screws, collect myself, and begin climbing.  I feel absolutely sure of myself on each swing and kick.  I pace myself through the easy sections, and I rest and evaluate before climbing the steep sections.  The hardest part is probably the top out.  I get in a screw at waist level and commit to the last few feet with my tools buried and feet securely dug in on each step.  I top out, feeling an amazing sense of calm (nothing like leading ice to make you so singularly focused) and accomplishment.  This climb will remain one of my finest moments.  It’s a milestone for me.  And I’m very grateful to all my friends and mentors who helped me achieve this, as well as my family for supporting me. 

Bride Veil Falls

Above my 2nd Screw on Bride Veil Falls
From there, Dustin and I headed into the Devil’s Kitchen and the ice was tremendous.  Huge school bus sized hangers and gorgeous smears of thick ice ran up the walls. We climbed 3rd Corner (WI4) which is a pretty long and sustained route and I found myself needing to take several rests.  That ridiculous death-grip I on my tools I was talking about before was starting to wear me thin.  I was able to clean the last screw but once I reached it I lowered off, exhausted.  Dustin talked to me about using the higher grip on the tool after swinging, resting with my arms extended as opposed to flexed, and even keeping a more calm face while swinging.  Little points that will add up when combined.  I know I climb well.  My mistakes are common.  But as I progress and push myself into leading and climbing harder routes, I’ll have to rely more on sound technique than muscle. 
Climbing 3rd Corner

Some of the sick hangers in Devil's Kitchen

I decided to end the day running a couple laps on shorter, but steep, section of ice a little further up into the Kitchen.  It’s a section of hard 3’s and 4’s, about half the length of the taller routes where I had just climbed.  I topped out on my first route, and then traversed above to redirect the rope above another route.  I climbed up and down a few more time, worked on some of the above-mentioned tips and called it a day with a smile on my face.

Wrapping it up in Devil's Kitchen

Monday, January 12, 2015

Getting it in, while it's in.

The perfect recipe for ice - several days of rain and snow followed by several days of well-below freezing temperatures. What could be better than that?  My favorite climbing partner, my wife, telling me that she doesn’t mind belaying me for a couple of hours so long as it’s not too cold and I provide hot chocolate.  What I really need is to get this girl her own mountaineering boots!  
As luck would have it, the temperature that day was around 30 degrees, the wind was calm, and the sun was shining bright.  We took a ride out to the Delaware Water Gap so I could climb the Slateford Curtain.  From the parking lot, it’s less than a 10 minute walk…but you got to make it down that very steep slope above the creek and falls, which isn’t too bad going down as much as it is going up.  But we’ll come back to that.

Mr and Mrs
Me, standing below the curtain. Frozen waterfall to the left.
The Curtain was in ok shape.  Two obvious routes; with one offering left and right variations.  The bottom hadn’t quite touched down, so the first few feet of climbing were on fragile ice. The center was fat, and the top was mixed – ice, rock, and turf.  I was expecting some rock, so I wore my beat-up crampons. Unfortunately, the points had been grinded down to nubs, and the serrated teeth no longer had their bite.  Footwork was difficult.  Trying to lightly tap the tips into the delicate free-hanging ice wasn’t going well…it was either breaking, or I was losing my footing.  Once on the fatter more forgiving ice, I was cruising.  On the exposed rock, I was fine.  But man, oh man…it was all arms to get the climbing started!
Left and Right, then meet in the middle.

Extremely challenging to start up with bad crampons.
Hiking out of Slateford is challenging.  There is a trail, and I’m sure it’s the proper and even scenic way to get back to the lot.  But you look up, see about 200+ feet of steep scrambling and think it’s the quickest, most direct way out.  So, you go for it.  And it only takes a few minutes, and there are enough trees to either rest against or assume they’ll be there to catch you if you start sliding.  But it’s a literal on all-fours bear crawl.  My wife topped out, huffing and puffing, red-faced and a bit angry.  I laughed, pulled her up to her feet, and gave her a big kiss.  We changed back into our clothes in the parking lot and an hour later we're eating cheeseburgers, fries, and sharing a Blueberry Cheesecake Milkshake.  Thanks for the belay, babe!

Happy Guy.
After a day of rest, I met up with August and Andrew to climb some ice at the local crag.  The big flow was in, and thick.  This time, wearing my sharp crampons, I made quick and easy work and ran a couple laps.  When I was off climbing and belaying duties, I took a walk and saw in a chimney, that sometimes has a drip of ice, a pretty significant smear of ice and nearby, an overhanging crack with a good chunk of ice in the middle that we hadn’t climbed before. 
Plush, in excellent shape.

The smear route was short, but challenging and fun.  The top section was flanked by a crack that swallowed up took placements and the chimney squeeze required specific footwork and body positioning. Another 10 feet of climbing, this route would be a classic.  It’s unfortunate that this isn’t a regularly occurring ice formation.
The very cool Ice Smear route. Short, but worth it!
The neighboring climb was a brutally physical mixed route.  I went first (using my dull crampons since it was mostly rock) and managed to figure out the crux sequence (after getting tossed a few times) but found myself completely spent for the two-hands-on-one-tool escape move out of the constriction.  August and Andrew, being fresher, taller and having the chance to watch me, had it a little easier…not to say that it was easy.  Even August, the big strong young climber from Maine, struggled to finish.  We figured the climb was probably an M7-M8.
Once you get your feet on top of that ice bulge, you're past the crux...then it's overhanging through that big crack, tool placements are there, you just need some strong arms!

August, using his size, strength, and my Nomics, to work through the sequence.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Looking Back at 2014. Ice Rules!

Here's a list of what I did in 2014.  As you can see, the majority of my days out were ice/mixed.

1/1 – XXX* (ice, mixed)
1/4 – Catskills, Hillyer Ravine (ice)
1/18 – Slateford Falls, Mt. Minsi, Delaware Water Gap (ice)
1/21 – Dark Side, Plate Cove, Catskills (ice)
1/25 – XXX (ice, mixed)
2/6 – Across North Face of Pitchoff Mountain, Adirondacks, NY (ice)
2/9 – XXX (ice)
2/17 – The Narrows (ice)

4/14 – Ricks Rocks
5/26 – XXX
7/6 – Gunks (The Nears)
7/19 – Delaware Water Gap (Mt. Minsi)
9/20 – Gunks (The Trapps)
10/14 – Powerlinez
10/25 – XXX
11/2 – Delaware Water Gap (Mt. Minsi)
12/23 – Stony Clove, West Side, Catskills (ice)

17 Days Climbing (9 Ice/Mixed)
*XXX - local crag with access issues

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

We'll Just Keep Climbing Till It Sucks

The sound of rain woke me before my 5:40am alarm clock.  I stepped out the door just before 6am and saw it was coming down diagonally, pooling in my broken driveway.  Fifteen minutes later, I’m sitting in my truck in a Dunkin Doughnuts parking lot texting Doug Ferguson as the rainfall drums on my roof.  I’m beyond wondering if this is a good idea anymore, this must be a bad idea.  The forecast was calling for rain all week, and here it is.  It’s a day before Christmas Eve and at the North Pole, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is on standby to lead Santa’s sleigh through this unfortunately timed winter Nor’easter.  Doug told me there’s definitely ice in the Cats.  Stony Clove is looking particularly good right now for this early in the season, and with all this rain and warmth it’s not about to last much longer.  Doug, who’s been up since 4am and probably on his 3rd cup of coffee, is telling me it’s hardly raining in New Paltz and he’s psyched to climb.  I’m looking forward to climbing, and don’t mind getting wet while doing it, but I don’t want to spend the day getting drenched.  Still, I’m wondering, the Cats are three hours away and surely the weather up there will be different then it is here…right?  Right?

The drive up does little to inspire confidence.  It goes from mist to hard rain, back and forth.  When I get to Doug’s house, it’s maybe in the upper 30’s and raining lightly.  He’s optimistic and I’m doing my best to keep up with his good spirit.  We drive together the next hour north, and it seems to be raining even harder as we get closer.  Off the exit and winding up towards Hunter Mountain I notice as we get higher up on the switchbacks that there’s snow on the ground, a lot of it and the road cuts around us do have ice.  When we reach Tannersville, there’s a surprisingly deep carpeting of white and the rain seems to have suddenly stopped.  We drive along the road that sits beneath Stony Clove, and we can see through the heavy fog rock walls with thick ice.  We park at Notch Lake, wait out a heavy but short downpour, and begin our approach in a light mist.  Both of us feel like the rain will turn on and off throughout the day.  And like Doug told me this morning over the phone, our game plan for the day is go and “just keep climbing till it sucks”.   

Looking up from the Lake.

Directly under the approach.

Somewhere along the base of The Entertainer/Ice Capades/Climax, we found an overhand for our packs and just big enough for us to find shelter under in case it started to rain heavy again. The top of Climax was blank rock, but Ice Capades (WI2) was in decent shape and Doug led up it.  After I followed, Doug took another lap and carefully, carefully, carefully tip-toed over to the Entertainer to drop the line from the top.  The Entertainer (WI3/3+) was thick and we were able to do left and right variations.  But just as Doug began his first lap, the rain returned and we were forced to take shelter and sip hot drinks.  Fortunately, it was brief and even more fortunate it was the worst the weather got for the rest of the day.  We emerged, I took another burn and Doug his.  After topping out, Doug again chose to walk the loose, scary, and extremely sketchy top (while still roped up), to drop our rope on Them That Die Are The Lucky Ones (WI3+, M3).  Normally, this is an ice climb but conditions made it a mixed route, roughly an M3 in terms of difficulty.  I’ve climbed Entertainer/Ice Capades/Climax plenty of times before, but this was my first time on TTDATLO.  It’s an interesting corner climb and conditions definitely made it sort of an “alpine” climb, with snow deposits, chossy rock, wet turf and all sorts of gnarly ice…rock veiled in thin filmy ice, “snice” – ice covered by a sheet of frozen snow, and the occasional bulge of good ice.   
Ice Capades, with just enough ice at the top for a safe finish.

The Entertainer went on its left and right side.
Waiting it out under a rock roof.
Looking up the very "Alpine" start of Them That Die Are The Lucky Ones.

Upper Section of TTDATLO.
Little Black Dike looked full and thick ealier from the road, and Doug and I were psyched to get on it.  One of my favorite Catskills climbs, the usually reliable LBD is 100 feet of nearly vertical WI4.  But by the time we reached it, it was clear that sections were delaminated.  For the first time, I noticed Doug take on a serious and focused look about him as he tied-in and started to lead up.  About 30 feet into the route, I heard the scary hollow thud of tools hitting dangerous ice as Doug searched for a safe stance to place a screw.  But once Doug cleared the mid-way crux, he found himself on thicker ice with safer options and cruised the final feet to the top and calling out to me in a sing-song voice.  Even for me following, LBD was pretty scary on the lower half.  There were thin sections were you could see the rock and water running beneath the ice.  At the second screw, I found myself at an overhanging bulge and needed to rest on the rope and shake out my tired arms.  The sustained vertical climbing was definitely challenging, given that I haven't been on ice for almost a year, but I felt like I could easily return to last years' peak form and certainly achieve some greater skill or ability this year if I'm able to climb enough.


Little Black Dike.

Crusing up the last few feet of LBD.

Our day ended after LBD, the cliff was too wet and the remaining ice now too dangerous.  Doug and I both managed to get in 5 pitches of climbing on a day that didn't seem like we'd be doing any climbing at all.  I packed an entire clothing change, fearing the rain would soak me to the baselayer, but only needed to swap out a jacket after getting stuck under a drip on The Entertainer.  We both agreed, the day was a huge success and not once did it ever come close to sucking.

Me, with Doug.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Zoom In!

Here are a couple of pictures from my last outing at the Delaware Water Gap, taken by my friend Allison.



High Falls, just below first belay

Monday, November 3, 2014


Sky like faded silver with heavy dark purple clouds.  The mountain above is beginning to bald but clusters of deep red and bright yellow leaves fight to hold on.  Kyle and I are below Mount Minsi, parked at the Cold Air Cave pull-off.  Both of us have our shoulders hunched up to our ears and hands stuffed in our pockets.  The wind is gusting at 30 mph, or more.  He drove almost four hours to be here.  We’re both laughing because there’s no way, no choice, for us not to climb today.

The wind speaks; it doesn’t just shriek and moan.  It tells me I’ll need my fleece pullover and Mammut soft-shell in order to stay warm.  It says it came from somewhere cold, and that soon that very cold will be here. It warns me that as soon as I get myself high up enough on the wall, to bath in the warm sun, that it will find me.

The wind carried in several other climbers.  Larry, the unofficial mayor of The Gap.  John, the fearless young man.  John’s girlfriend Alison, the photographer.  Boyd, the Doctor.  Kyle N., or “the other Kyle”, a quiet kid who looks like Harry Potter.  And my Kyle, affectionately known as The Stoned Master.  And finally Kyle’s wife Amanda, who is bundled up like an Eskimo and quietly reading wherever she can find some sun.  I’ve never climbed with such a big group before, usually I roll in 2’s or 3’s.  The last time I’ve seen this many cars parked below the ascent trail was years ago, when a two-bit guide outfit put a deal on Groupon for urbanites to crowd the small top-ropers buttress and leave trash strewn all over the undercliff trail.  Thankfully, the wild and adventurous nature of The Gap keeps the regular visitors down to a select few hardmen and committed locals.
Gearing Up Before Heading Up
I climbed with Larry and Kyle on High Falls, 5.8.  This route starts above the Practice Face ledge.  Some people call the section below the Practice Face (below the single bolt) the first pitch of High Falls.  But I feel the route doesn’t really start until you’re above the Practice Fact, and you’ve traversed in via the Cat Walk ledge.  Larry lead Pitch 1, Kyle and I simu-climbed with me cleaning gear. I decided to rap off of Pitch 1.  Pitch 2 is a short traverse to a hanging belay, and I felt like things would be complicated in that position with three climbers and two ropes.  And Kyle and Larry were swapping leads anyway, I was just following.  I rapped, and came around the corner to Pussy Toes, 5.5 were John, Boyd, and Alison were climbing.  Shortly thereafter, the other Kyle joined us.

Larry, starting up High Falls.
Our entire party traversed the cliff south to the Land of The Giants wall where we divided up.  Larry and John on Point of No Return, 5.8+ (or, 5.8+++), with Alison taking pictures on the ground.  Boyd and The Other Kyle on Surprise, 5.4.  And Kyle and I on Crackpot, 5.4, with his wife sitting nearby with her book.  Crackpot is directly right of Point of No Return and we were able to hear Larry’s incessant whistling/singing while he stuck it out in the hanging belay – bringing up John, and then belaying him out to lead.  How he kept himself in that position for so long, I have no idea.
Kyle, leading up Crackpot.
Larry, hanging belay on Point of No Return.

Kyle and I on Crackpot.

After rappelling Crackpot, Kyle and I found our rope was stuck when trying to retrieve it.  The links on Crackpot are a bit small, and I’ve had trouble pulling ropes from this route before.  But ours were completely stuck, as in the two of us with all of our weight and strength could not get them to budge.  These things happen sometimes.  Larry and John were in deep on Point of No Returns so we had to wait for Boyd and The Other Kyle to finish Surprise so they could free our rope, but they planned on climbing Crackpot next anyway.  And before he went up, I gave Boyd a spare biner and aluminum ring to replace those damn links up there.

Boyd, up on the cold and dark arete of Crackpot to free our ropes.
Our day started at 730am and by now it was nearly 3pm.  Kyle and I had planned on climbing Surprise but unfortunately, we lost almost 90 minutes waiting.  And at this point, the sun was completely gone from the cliff and we were all very, very cold.  We all said our goodbyes after plenty of back and forth about getting together again, here or there, to climb this or that.  I told Kyle that in the Spring I would make the trip out to his home turf.

Back at the parking area, the wind was blowing cold off of the river and saying that our time was short.  I don’t think that today was my last day climbing rock in 2014, but very well could be.  This rock season may not have been one of my most active, but probably one of the best if you quantify quality.  

View of The Mighty Delaware, just below The Gap.
Hoping to get some additional pictures from Alison, the photographer, in the coming weeks.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Be Inspiring

Over the weekend I was fortunate to climb with my friend Jud and his son, his wife and daughter (they came along to watch and hike), as well as my wife and son.  We decided it would be best to carry my son in his kid-carrier pack, so my wife and I had to leave our daughter with her grandparents, since both of us would be carrying in packs.

We went to the local crag and the intent of the day was to let Jud’s son sample some more outdoor climbing (he’s only 9 years old, and mostly climbs indoors).  I also wanted my son to get outside to watch and scramble up some of the step-like gullies so he could “rock climb” too.  I also wanted my wife’s company and brought along her harness, shoes, and helmet hoping she might rope up.

Jud’s son climbed the 5-easy chimney route with ease and I coaxed my wife into giving it a try.  She was a bit nervous; she used to climb quite a bit in the gym but not much outside, and it’s been a while.  But she managed to send the route no problem and came down with a big smile on her face and later telling me “I’m back”, saying how she was looking forward to climbing again.  After that we climbed one of my favorite routes, a 5.6/7 corner climb that really challenged but stoked Jud’s son since the variety in holds and body positions is something you really can’t replicate in the gym. 

My son had a blast.  All he wanted to do was climb and I was very impressed by how well he can do it at just under 3 years old.  He’s very confident, sure-footed and careful (he gets a lot of practice climbing furniture).  I can’t wait until he’s big enough for a child’s harness. While I’ll never push him into doing anything, I can see he genuinely enjoys the outdoors, climbing, and doing adventurous and physical activities.

I’ve been bummed out lately by how I see a lot of parents interact with their young children, especially when it comes to fathers and sons.  I saw a pretty disappointing episode recently at a barber shop, while my son played with another boy his father (who was too occupied with his cellphone to see how well they were behaving) kept pulling him back in his chair and shushing him, then finally turning over the phone to the child with a video to halt his play and divert his attention. Why a dad would be annoyed by two boys just being boys – nobody else there seemed to mind either, all the other adults were watching them and smiling.  And the other day, at a child’s birthday party, seeing parents shut down their kids with iPads or their cellphones instead of letting them be kids or, what they should be doing, giving them the proper attention they need.  I’m not trying to rant, but while some people may think I’m crazy bringing my son climbing, I think people like me and Jud got it right when it comes to parenting versus those who’d rather let the TV, iPad, cellphone, or the internet be their children’s guide in life.  Jud spent a great deal of time explaining safety and the reasons behind our actions to his son, as a father should.  While my little guy is a bit too young for Climbing 101 or roping up, at the very least I’ll let him learn through playing, experience falling down-getting up, watch, and hopefully one day be inspired to try. 
The Little Guy who I'm trying to inspire, who inspires me.