Thursday, May 28, 2009

The New River Gorge (subtitle: Cool Crags Californians Don't Have)

As if the superlative-evoking climbs of the New River Gorge weren't cool enough, Mary and I discovered the beauty, secretive wonder, and local color that is rural West Virginia. Every once and a while, I come across a place that makes me feel truly "alien" or, as the local gas station attendant in Lewisburg put it, "not from these parts". We traveled country roads that wound their serpentine way through forgotten hollows, brushed with state troopers looking for [sic] "fellas without drie-vers lie-senses", happened upon a true Irish music jam-session in a tiny Irish pub, and ate the best corned beef hash I have ever—and ever will—have. My Scotch-Irish roots—hidden for so long—came out in full force. At said Irish pub (in historic Lewisburg), Mary and I ordered Bangers and Mash, Shepherd's Pie (with locally raised Lamb), Irish Stew (again, with locally raised Lamb), corned beef hash, and a hefty pint of local Stout. Oh, and that was just for one meal. We went there twice. Let it be known that I haven't eaten a significant volume of red meat in a long, long time. Yes, it was worth it. What does my Scotch-Irish half say to my California-fresh veggie half?

Feck it. Give me me bangers.

Yes, I did climb on this trip. A lot. The New River Gorge absolutely redefined my conception of what constitutes good climbing. It's only fitting that a crag this good is located in a rural locale, away from all major airports, and touts some of the muggiest weather east of the Mississippi. If this place was near L.A., it would look like Mordor—give or take a few teenage V-snobs with their radios and annoying dogs. But this is the South: most people are friendly, slow-talking, and spend their evenings at the campsite reading or chatting (not comparing the size of their... ahem... climbing muscles). I can't even begin to describe how good—and varied—the rock is. Perhaps the New just suits my style; I quickly dispensed with a hefty amount of 11's and 12's, surprising myself. Everybody told me the New had really stout grades, but for some reason everything felt natural, or intuitive. Sure, we Californians have Bishop, Yosemite, the Sierra, the Needles, and Tahoe. But we don't have the New River Gorge.

But everything I just raved about pales in comparison to this fact: I GOT ENGAGED TO MARY SKOKUT!

That's right.

Virginia IS for lovers.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Eastward, ho!

I'm heading out to Virginia to visit Mary this weekend. That's right: I'll be hanging—and climbing—with the famed Skokut, a woman who is, per Elijah Ball's description, a true "crank-muffin". She and I will hit up West Virginia's best at New River Gorge, and I'm hoping to score some legit sweet tea while I'm there, and maybe even a sumptuous Chick-fil-A feast. A Krispy Kreme chaser wouldn't hurt, either. Thank god for the South, capital "s".

For the first time in my sordid climbing career, I will utilize air travel to arrive at my destination of cranking. Don't worry: meager overhead bins won't keep me from packing my entire rack and rope. The New (as I understand it is called) vaunts classic routes of a mixed nature, and I've felt the trad itch lately anyways. Come to think of it, it's about time I mentioned my new goal for the year:

By next summer, I hope to lead a 5.12c or harder.

On gear, that is.

Indian Creek is potentially out of the running as a location because the cracks are so hand-size dependant, and lack the "sporty" nature I'm questing after. Said challenge must by engaging, powerful, sustained, hopefully a mix of crack and face, and of superior rock quality and position. Basically, I want to climb a work of art, something unequivocally inspiring. And it can't be a giveaway. I've got to earn it, every single inch. I won't suggest a length, but I would prefer something longer than 40 feet. I'm looking at routes in Yosemite, Tuolumne, The Needles (yikes!), and the for me as-yet-unclimbed Little Cottonwood Canyon in Utah. My ear is open for suggestions. Bring em' on!

That's my Christmas list.

Merry Memorial day, and a Tradly new year.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Loaf and the Leap

I spent the last three days climbing at Lover's Leap and Sugarloaf Rock near Tahoe, California. Needless to say, I was very tradly for the duration, but I also spent some time on heads-up sport routes. In the attached picture, I am leading a profoundly sustained 5.12a at Lover's Leap. The first bolt is too high for the picture—that should give you a general idea of the commitment level. The other picture is of me on Dominion, a mellow 5.10 at Sugarloaf. It was super fun to accrue tons of mileage on 5.10 and 5.11 trad, and was reminded that leading 5.12 sport doesn't mean you can lead 5.12 with gear. It should be noted that South Lake Tahoe area has absolutely stellar climbing, minus the crowds and hassle of Yosemite, and with lots of free camping.

Other routes of note:

--Bolee Gold, 5.10c, 3 pitches: slightly runout, totally exposed, utterly fun.
--Nirvana, 5.11c: raddest onsight of the trip. Insanely exposed arete climbing with very, very engaging cruxes.
--The Fracture, 5.10d: Sugarloaf's classic finger-crack. Elegant and fun.
--Taurus, 5.11b: in-your-face 5.11 finger crack that leads to super sustained 5.10d undercling/layback. I easily onsighted through the crux, cruised to the top moves, was about to celebrate by grabbing a jug when I slipped on lichen and took a 15 foot whipper on a yellow Metolius power cam—a good reminder to stay focused while leading, and to keep on placing good gear. Thank you Metolius!
--Hospital Corner, 5.10a: the best 5.10 in the galaxy. This route is mentally a 5.12 and physically a 5.10. Absolutely astonishingly good.

There was much, much more climbing on this trip, and 90% of it was world-class, but for now I'll just say Tahoe=rad.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Crack Machine

This Saturday, my client, Phil, had me build a crack-machine for his backyard. I won't go into detail on its construction. Insofar as it helps crack-climbing, the crack-machine is brilliant, but besides its decidedly niche utility, it's actually more of a monstrosity. Here's the video to prove it: