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Archive for the ‘Climbing’ Category

I had small amount of business out town early this week, hardly seeming worth the 3 1/2 hours of driving I would have to do to accomplish it. I decided to make more of a trip out of it.

Firstly, I connected up with my present climbing partner for a quick outing to a hidden crag. You have to hike downhill a full mile to get to the creek side cliff. It is always cool and lush at ground level, but the wall dries fairly quickly. My partner led the 5.8 and an overhung 5.9. I followed by leading a 5.10 and we set up a 5.11 on toprope that I climbed clean on first try. As you may have discerned, the real workout is the 1 mile uphill hike after climbing. It is both cardio- and leg power intense. Our conversation reflected our different stages of life and our mutual love of God, truth, and the outdoors.

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Setting up for the warm-up, Jigsaw (5.8)

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“Belaying Blues”?

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Lowering after cleaning the climb

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Beautiful, cool setting for climbing

Secondly, I went to visit my middle son. I ordered Mexican to go and we went up to Wilbur Lake to eat at a picnic table at the boat ramp. People were pulling their canoes and Jon boats in and out and families were wading. The water comes off of the bottom of Watauga Lake above at about 40 degrees, bone aching cold. We waded and ate and talked and reminisced. We had left this area when he was just over 3 years old. I asked him if he remembered being here. He described it in an insightful way: “It was more like a snapshot than a video.” That pretty much pictured it. The area is called the Horseshoe because the Watauga River, now Wilbur Lake, has an extreme horseshoe shaped bend. The next picture shoes the late afternoon Sun shining over the central spine of the Horseshoe. If you walk up this spine, at one point you can look back and see both legs of the horseshoe below you. After supper he drove me up the short hill to the house we had lived in for those 7 years, 1986-1993. It was some of the best and worst times for our family. Best because of the closeness and nature and gardens and church and tangible provision of God. Worst because of the hard work and lack of money and difficulty in finding direction. In retrospect, I think the two correlate. Difficulty precipitates more trust in God and more awareness of His blessings. We went back to his house, watched a few Youtube videos, talked about his new job and went to bed early. He was up early and left earlier than he had said to get to another day of his job training. It was good to see his diligence and drive, not that I have ever seen it lacking.

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Bone Chilling Wilbur Lake

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Horseshoe Homeplace

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Son’s new leased house

Thirdly, I met up with my brother and sister-in-law for two hikes, one to see wildflowers and trees at Warrior’s Path State Park and the other to see the same plus several small waterfalls in a little gorge at Laurel Run Park on the north flank of Bays Mountain in Hawkins County. The first hike was short in distance but long in time because on this limestone slope below the campground down to the lake I saw many varieties of trees that I just don’t see in NC. I was pointing them out and how to identify them to my sister-in-law and my brother as he took interest.

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Three disparate barks

Though I use leaves as well, I was trained to recognize deciduous trees by their bark, learning them in the Fall mostly after the leaves had fallen off. The above three trees are from left to right, Black (or Wild) Cherry, Chincapin Oak (not common and the bark very nearly resembles White Oak), and Hickory (Mockernut or Shagbark most likely though it is hard to tell at this early stage). Before we left the park we had identified 36 trees species, only one not native. 

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Butterflies and Mildweeds

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One of those, “Which do you see first” pictures: 1) reflection of the tree 2) fish 3) foreground leaves and twigs.

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Holston River

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Some uncommon orchid late blooming.

The Laurel Run hike was a bit longer and steeper, but the shade and conversation were good. People had eked out living in these draws where they were left alone and used whatever resources were available. It is a pity that the American Chestnut was not one of the trees we saw. They exist here but are minuscule in size compared to the great trees of the past that supplied so much livestock with food. With the trip between parks and this second hike, my sister-in-law and I identified 52 species of trees with only 3 exotics. We are blessed with a bio-diverse area. 

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Cultural Residual

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Sis and Bro

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typical limestone layering and color; I wondered where the cave entrances are.

It seems most every wildflower is 10 days to two weeks late this year. We speculated that the warm March and very cool April may have been the cause.

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Rattlesnake Plantain not quite ready to bloom. 

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First waterfall- about 15 feet

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“Waterfall” 2 was about 4 feet but with an inviting pool

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Waterfall 3 was about 10 feet. These would be amazing looking after a good rain.

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Sandstone overlaying Limestone?

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Cultural Art: Tractor oil pan perhaps

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Wild Flocks and Stinging Nettle and a Butterfly that moved too fast for my camera.

I find it amazing how you can fill up a 24 hour period with so much that feeds the mind, emotions, and body. These in turn bring a measure of rest to the spirit, best experienced as you thank and praise the Creator for the beauties before you, the health to enjoy them, and the relationships which are more permanent than either.

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I received an email today that left me chagrined. I am a 60 year old participant in outdoor activities, particularly climbing at the moment. Access to local national forest climbing areas may be threatened. I wrote a letter whose introductory paragraph read as follows:

“I am a native of East Tennessee and longtime resident of Western North Carolina who has spent many 1000’s of hours in the national forests of the Appalachians and Blue Ridge hiking and climbing and camping. The public lands and my use of them is my single most loved freedom and pursuit that retains me as a resident of these beloved mountains. For 50 years I have roamed these mountains for my mental and physical health, leaving as little trace as I could and taking many pictures and memories. As a family man, I have taught my family to appreciate and care for the mountains and as a teacher I have done the same both in the classroom and outdoors. I plead with you to not shut down the opportunities of young and old alike to enjoy the challenges of climbing by overly restrictive and one-size fits all statutes and procedures concerning climbing areas and their approaches. Educate people and see them rise to the challenge of protecting while utilizing these resources that belong to the American people. Don’t lock it away to be underutilized by preventing access to world class climbing areas in our beautiful forests.”

If you are interested in helping to keep the National Forests open to climbing both here, and ultimately nationwide, please spread the word and write a letter at the following site: Click on https://www.accessfund.org , and go to the bottom of the page for the quick help with the letter. It really only takes 5 minutes and may retain climbing access for years to come. 

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I love to observe the beauties of nature. Some of the following pictures are from before the pandemic and many are part of my coping mechanism since it has started. The first picture shows algae with what I believe to be a brown spore case. If I am wrong, I wish some algae expert would set me straight.

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Algae under a microscope

Cameras can be deceptive. The pizza place was actually rather dim with little points of light. We enjoyed the cauliflower crust pizza with organic toppings of veggies and cheese.

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Upscale Pizza place with my Valentine

It is convenient that my son has several downed trees in his side yard that I have cut off of a few times. I had never been so low on wood, oh, except for the time many years ago when I had been sick for several months and nearly ran out. At that time a friend felt sorry for me and brought some wood. The present wood is dry and off the ground with very little rot. The day was pleasantly cool for work.

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A little more wood needed

I gave one of my 9 year old Sunday School students an adult coloring book. The next Sunday she showed me the following:

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Sunday School student’s art

A mobile lab comes to our school each semester to do a DNA Electrophoresis Lab with our Biology students. It is a very effective use of their time.

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DNA Electrophoresis Lab

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migrating DNA in a gel

A friend of ours from Bible School days came by to visit. She is retiring from many years of missionary work in the Philippians. It has been a privilege to be in contact with her all of these years, following what God has been doing with and through her.

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A friend and missionary

All of the previous pictures were pre-pandemic. The following ones are various fresh air excursions since warning to keep apart from others. The trillium are going wild in a little triangle of woods about 1/2 mile from my house where I frequently walk.

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Sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum)

I like the beauty of my own yard in Spring as well.

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Grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum)

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Just a week before the restrictive stay at home orders came, my daughter and two grandchildren came to visit.

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He can look so serious

Only 3/4 of a mile from the house is a small waterfall in a draw (small vale or notch for those of you from a different neck of the woods) surrounded by wooded suburbia.

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Neighborhood waterfall

We hiked one day to a much larger waterfall. It is a short but steep walk, which I would have thought nothing of had it not been for the little ones to help along. We have had so much rain lately that the ground keeps giving water.

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Upper Creek Falls

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Mama enjoys time outside, too

I can’t paint a still life, but I can appreciate one.

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Colors, Contrasts, and Tones

When my daughter went home, my granddaughter wanted to stay. We did several fun and relationship building things. When we went to the climbing gym I told her to watch me climb at first, knowing that she takes time to warm up to things. After about 45 minutes of following me around, she asked if she could have some climbing shoes. She was really quite good.

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More time together

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Only thing lacking was confidence

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roughed up a little

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Historic times

My wife is a wonderful cook. The only problem is her food doesn’t last long around our house with me there.

 

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Yet another fabulous dish from my favorite chef

On the way back from a doctor across the state line, I decided to stop for a leg stretcher. In warm weather it is one of the best and most crowded swimming holes.

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good flow

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Elk River Falls

Two more backyard blooms and a small neck of the woods trillium follow:

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Backyard Beauty

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Pontentilla sp.

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There is little for perspective, but this huge, perhaps 12″+ in diameter.

At 5 PM on this very day, they were closing down many outdoor venues, specifically including climbing areas. I went and got in a quick session since both gyms and crags are closed for the foreseeable future. So much time to go and so little availability.

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Mushroom Boulder

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View from just behind the boulder

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Galax

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Bloodroot and Wood Sorrel

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Wood Sorrel
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Bloodroot

Having not been outside much to climb lately, I was mostly shutdown by problems that I could previously do. I enjoy climbing for the mental and physical aspects. I needed some success before I went home and this is a good boulder for it.

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Warm-up Boulder

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Shelf Fungus

I bought this ground cover only last Spring and it is covering the ground!

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Verbana sp.
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Red Dogwood

I don’t know why it is named after a snake, but the vividness and pattern of the white lines on the leaves are fascinating:

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Rattlesnake Plantain

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Fiddleheads

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Mayapple

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Wisteria

Many trees can be identified to the species by how they are shaped. Even sometimes their reaction to heavy pruning still comes out identifiable. One bright blue day I took pictures of 8 or 10 treeforms. I won’t bore you with the lot of them but the general idea is there.

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Spruce treeform

If you know what fractals are, then you will see why I mention them before the white oak tree picture.

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Oak treeform

To end this random array of flower arrangements and outdoor excursions and such I give you one more flower that grows by my backyard shed. Enjoy what little joys and beauties you are afforded. They help you deal with the sad and ugly moments of life. They are gifts from a gracious Father who loves beauty and blessing.

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Star of Bethlehem

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‘For me this place is therapeutic, but I don’t know why exactly’, my partner mused.

Black Fork 1

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Table Mountain Pine

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Clouds cruising over the ridge (Colors were more vivid in person.)

It is the most isolated place in our county, thoroughly quiet and secluded, but opens up on a view of the valley a distance across several miles of woods. It feels like you are alone with God in this small wilderness with time to reflect.

The clouds and low sun made a significant distinction and contrast between the wooded draw and the valley and mountains beyond. We felt set apart. The clouds with evening colors rushed over the ridge like great ships entering harbor and yet there was no wind at the surface. The barren trees lay quietly in their winter snooze. A lone train whistle on the far side of the ridge quietly reported its presence at a far distance in the next valley. It was a time to praise God in prayer and quietly reflect on the peace it brings to the beleaguered mind and heart.

The Table Mountain Pine is not common unless you are on a south facing, shallow soil of a flat cliff top. It’s spiky cones suggest the struggle it has to tolerate the harsh heating and drying conditions where it outcompetes other conifers. My rough fingers, tape, and chalk suggest the cherished struggle I had with rock faces moments before.

It was a good day to climb, a good day to reflect, and a good day to imbibe the tranquil therapeutics. I am so blessed to have this outlet in seasons of stress. The focus and intensity of climbing and the reflection and relaxation of time in the woods and views from the clifftops are a gift.

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Life is good because God is good.

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Other responsibilities and stresses, consistently rainy weekends, injury and sickness do not make for consistent climbing or staying in shape. And they also discourage training for a better day. But if you sit down and give up you are not likely to ever get up again. After 2 months off and only sporadic climbing before that, I got to go out on MLK Day. The temperature was a crisp mid-thirties with a chilling breeze, but the boulder field we chose is south facing with bare deciduous trees. As you might imagine the friction was exceptional. I had not been to Rumbling Bald in quite some time. The “new” parking area that was put in a few years back when it became a state park was now more recently doubled. The effect was to remove the scrub Virginia Pines opening up a huge view of the various faces of the Bald. I was climbing with a teaching colleague for the first time. Having never been there, he was excited, and we were both very talkative. I headed straight for Trailside Boulder to warm-up. We met a couple there from Greenville, SC. They were fairly new to outdoor climbing and first timers at the Bald as well. I had beta on easier climbs, so we fell in together for the rest of the day. My stamina was low, but with four people cycling through, I had no trouble giving my best tries. Next I took them to Bart Simpson Boulder, played around, took pictures, and enjoyed the sunshine and conversation. After that they left and my partner and I hit the Cave Boulders for a few last tries. Our conversation picked up on the ride back home. Sunshine, rock, tree silhouettes, brisk temperatures, plenty of clothing, pleasantly tired muscles, getting to know new people, and visiting well-known places, I would say constitutes a good day.

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It was good to get out this past weekend. It is not as regular as I would like, so that I am not climbing as well as I would like, but to be healthy enough, have the opportunity to go at all, and have a young, Christian brother with whom to climb are all reasons to be thankful to God. He knows best what I need and what other things He wants me to be involved in. I am blessed, so I feel blessed. Get that right. Put the fact before the feeling. Remind yourself from Scripture, fellowship, and personal experience how you are blessed, then give thanks. At some point you will give way to feeling blessed.

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Partner on a wam-up lead.

For those who are not familiar with how lead climbing works, notice the rope going through metal devices called carabiners. These particular carabiners are part of what are called quickdraws, which are two carabiners with a stiff nylon webbing between them for easy deployment. He had to climb above the first device (a cam in this instance (you can Google all of these terms if you are curious)) before finding the next crack or hole to place protection. I am belaying from below, that is, if he falls then I stop his fall with a device the rope goes through and is attached to my harness. This is a mixed climb, meaning that it is has some bolts fixed in the wall to hook the quickdraws to and the climber must also place gear for other protection. When using the bolts, we call it sport climbing, and when using the other protection, we call it trad (for traditional) climbing.

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A fixed anchor with rings. You add the carabiners with runners (longer and more flexible than quickdraws) when you climb up to the anchors.
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A tall 5.8 climb. Red shirt of my climbing partner, about 100 feet up.

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Two weeks ago my climbing partner and I were making a short approach to a crag. I chose to come to the top of the cliff and set up a toprope. He went down through the crack to the base of the outcrop. When I was ready to rappel down, he said, “Watch the snake below you about ten feet above the ground.” I asked for further explanation. A moment later my partner said, “He fell.” I looked down just in time to see the snake smack the ground. This snake was climbing perhaps a 5.9 section of a 5.11 climb. We climbed a few pitches, watching this 5 foot Black Snake search for holds. After a while it gave up on the direct approach and moved up a slanted ledge toward the top of the cliff. While I was climbing, my partner commented that it had climbed into a bush high up on the ledge. We took no more notice for a while.

A little later while I was belaying my partner, I saw the snake 30′ up on a branch, reaching out to the cliff. It was at nearly full extension with just the last 6″ wrapped around the branch. I could discern the possible path that the snake had crawled out of the bush onto a far branch of the tree, to the trunk, and out to the end of the branch to the cliff. After much searching on the cliff for a hold, it slowly released hold on the branch, and soon afterward fell 30′ to a boulder below. I thought surely this killed the snake. However, I did observe the center of the snake strike the rock and the head flopped onto the leaf mulched ground beside it. It lay still. After my partner came down, I went over and poked it with a stick. It coiled up to strike. A few minutes later it crawled into a crack low on the ledge, and then back out followed by a shorter Black Snake. The shorter one tried climbing the wall several times, searching different holds to go up. It was more cautious that its climbing partner backing down instead of falling.

At one point I took a long stick and removed the shorter snake from a climb that I wanted to try. It got back on the climb shortly after I ascended. As I descended the climb I ask my belayer to stop at a small crack/ledge filled with miniature rhododendron bushes. The crack was no more than 4″ wide. There under one of the bushes was a fairly new bird’s nest without a bird or eggs. I suspected that this nest was the goal.

We moved to the right of the crag only glancing back occasionally to see the progress of the snakes. Now, nearly 2 hours since we had arrived, the larger snake was coming down from the top of the cliff and succeeded at getting into the crack where the nest was without falling. It must have been a disappointment to find no eggs for breakfast (late evening though it were). I would guess that they had visited the nest previously and consumed the eggs but had no idea that there would not be more eggs when they returned. So much effort with no return. Well, we certainly enjoyed the show!

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“Shorty” about 10′ up

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Check out the tail hold, full body contact, tense core, use of multiple holds, and hold searching

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Ledge Traverse

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Another “try hard”

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Climbing Partners in matching outfits

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It has been 3 1/2 months since I went climbing, and it was two months before that. This is beginning to not look like a hobby. Oh well, I was thankful to get out today, and perhaps we have a plan to be more regular without overwhelming our schedules.

Being a little warmer, mid-80’s in the valley, we went to a crag where a creek cascades between two cliffs and most climbs are in the shade. It is about a mile walk in, down hill, meaning, of course, that it is a fairly stout walk out after climbing. At least the walk in doesn’t exhaust you before climbing. I knew that my finger strength was still good because I regularly do doorframe pull-ups, but I have not persisted in endurance training activities for my arms. I expected to do single hard moves and then be exhausted. Surprisingly, I did somewhat better than that, though I definitely felt the burn too soon. We completed 4 pitches and worked on a 5/12a project. Gonna have to increase the endurance before that one goes down.

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“On Belay?” Ready to start a sport lead of a 5.10b
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Jigsaw 5.8
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Overhung, shady, and frequently damp (Frazier Magnolia in the foreground)
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Belay lock position
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Height is not a problem when you are properly tied in
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At the rings at treetop level
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The aesthetic cooling factor
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Wall with roof and tree
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Galax is so bright green and lively looking in Spring
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Beautiful and cold
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Grow where you’re planted
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Hanging out at the crag 

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After two months of rain and conflicting responsibilities, I got to go climbing yesterday. It was an exceptionally beautiful day, 20 degrees initially, but lower 30’s by the time we began climbing. Besides full sunshine on the south facing wall, the breeze was minimal and most of the climbs were dry except for one or two springs (yeah, not oozes, but springs, but hey, a record rainfall year just ended). In consideration of temperatures we chose a low elevation, south facing crag, Rocky Face Mountain Recreational Park (website) in the Brushy Mountains of Alexander County, North Carolina. Some forward looking people (community members and public servants, no doubt) planned and executed this transformation of a rock quarry into a park the whole family can use, and they do. The company my climbing partner works for designed and executed the parking, picnic, and climbing areas. Where else can you park, walk less than 100 yards across a mulched picnic area to 60 bolted sport climbs. Signs show topo pictures and ratings. My climbing partner suggested that we try to get in 10 pitches before park closing time at 5 PM. We warmed up on a 5.4, then progressed up to a 5.10. I only fell on the 5.10, but on the second try found the right foot placement to utilize the slopey, crimper sidepull for my right hand (Climbing Terminology). I actually figured it out by watching my partner do it between my two tries. Visual beta is the best when you can get it. It occurred to me that visual beta (seeing how it is done) is analogous to fellowship in the church. You can see the path forward as you watch and collaborate with fellow believers. I actually have a few pictures of me climbing in the park a former time I was there three years ago (Playing at 56). The day was particularly satisfying since my mind had been distracted by many difficulties and restraints. You can’t think about concerns when you are concentrating on climbing (Or at least, bears of little brain cannot so multi-task.) I was refreshed by the day, the conversation, the challenge, and the small accomplishments after so long a time away from climbing, and I am thankful to God for it.

Note: This blog post will be very dull indeed if you do not utilize the hyperlinks.

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The sky was so blue you would have thought we were out West. The day was just barely long sleeves cool in the shade and balmy in the sun. With the low humidity rock friction was good. The wall pictured has very obvious ripple marks which were probably laid down during the Flood in loose sand, lithified then tipped. It is the type of climb that is challenging because of the small holds rather than the need for significant strength. It is not really that hard since it is on a positive slope, but you never quite feel like you are secure because the holds are small. I would not attempt to lead it for that reason. For me this has been a year of recovering from injury, so climbing at all is amazing and climbing decently is even better. I picked my way up this climb and completed it in one try. By contrast, on a later climb I struggled with strength moves up half way and then the holds became so small I didn’t even know what to reach for next. I was totally shut down. I find climbing to be both exhilarating and humbling. I always enjoy the conversation with my climbing partner, who is a growing, young believer in Christ, an avid outdoor enthusiast, and an intelligent engineer.

Noel Rap BF

Rappelling after a climb. Deep blue skies!

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In the moss of my backyard

The trees in my backyard usually sustain moss green until the heat and shade of June, but this year it has remained green even until late October. As I write it is raining hard yet again. The miniature scene above shows a recent mushroom popping up through the moss into a spot of sunlight even as leaves begin to fall off of the willow oak. I don’t remember seeing this type of mushroom before with the yellow rim. It was bright yellow when the fruiting body first began to open. I readily understand the attraction of bonsai scenes. The small detail of lush greenery is fascinating and beautiful. 

I am so thankful for eyes to see dark blue skies, ripple marks on rock, moss and mushrooms and all. The Creation is only a dim shadow of the beauty of our God and one day we who belong to Him will see Him.

Frederick Faber says it well in his hymn “My God How Wonderful Thou Art”:

“How beautiful, how beautiful,
The sight of Thee must be,
Thine endless wisdom, boundless power,
And awful purity!…

Only to sit and think of God—
Oh, what a joy it is!
To think the thought, to breathe the name—
Earth has no higher bliss!.

Father of Jesus, love’s reward!
What rapture it will be
Prostrate before Thy throne to lie,
And gaze and gaze on Thee!”

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Last Saturday I went climbing with two friends in an out of the way place that local climbers know about but don’t widely describe its location. The day began cool, cloudy, and damp. There was no one out. We stopped along the way to take pictures at the top of the cliff, because you walk in from above and descend a gully to get tot he base of the cliff. My friends had never been to this location before, but I didn’t show them around much because our time was limited.

We worked on 3 different climbs, two sport and one trad. I have a habit of overprotecting trad climbs, but I put in adequate protection without overkill this day. It felt good. For the uninitiate, sport is clipping your rope into bolts on the way up using carabiners, while trad (traditional) protection is various devices that you place in cracks and clip the rope into with carabiners. Trad is more challenging since you have to take more time, and therefore more energy, to place the protection.

The clouds blew away in late morning, leaving a clear blue sky and pleasant temperature. We encouraged and quipped each other up the rock. It is good to have friends with whom to do things.

This day out of context seems pleasant enough, but it is mid-October and still unseasonably warm. The year has been exceptionally wet. Flowers and shrubs seem confused. I have an azalea that is blooming for the third time this season. Below is a picture of rhododendron blooming in mid-October. Mosquitoes are still fierce, moss is still green under the trees in my backyard, and mildews are ubiquitous. Most of the leaves are still green and only now do we see sourwood turning deep red (picture below). Higher in the mountains the yellows are appearing, but green is still the predominant color. Finally, this weekend we expect near freezing temperatures, but we ought to be approaching hard freeze date and it is not likely soon. Whether this is a permanent change or a prolonged cycle I have no foresight to tell, but it is at the very least odd.

One way or another, for one reason or another, this old world will be as a worn out garment one day, ready to be changed and rolled up. But God never changes. He will remain and all of those who by faith are His children. (Psalm 102:25-28) So, I enjoy the beauty of nature and glorify God for its beauty and in its fading glory.

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Preping for the Climb

Dan at BF

Balance and Concentration

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“Paint Flake” Lichen?

Noel belaying

The Old Man Belays

Stephen at BF

Beautiful day for a challenge

Stphen belaying

“Belay On.” or Banana on?

variety of seedlings

How many varieties of tree seedlings can you identify? (I see 4 and one more I’m not sure about, a vine and a shrub.)

Lake J From BF

From Cliff Top

3x selfie from BF

Guy Outing

Rhodo blooming in Oct

Rhododendron blooming in mid-October?

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Today is the day that Florence crossed North and South Carolina. I have no great stories and hope it remains that way.  For many this was a day of struggle and loss, for others a day or heroism, and more than not, a day to stay indoors. Much prayer has been answered, in that the storm was Category 2 by the time it reached shore and many have been rescued. But the snail’s pace of coming inland has caused massive flooding with feet of water rising, dozens of inches of rain in places, hundreds of people rescued, thousands of homes flooded, hundreds of thousands without power, and millions of dollars in damage. Many good citizens are out helping others.

On this rainy day I am going to recall last weekend when the rain was more of a nuisance than a difficulty. We had to go to two different crags because the first one rained us out after about two hours. It was amazing that I could climb considering my back problems, but if you avoid significant twisting and dynamic motion it is really just good stretching of the spine that increases blood flow and disc hydration. And I climbed a climb (Homegrown 5.10a) clean that rarely happens for me. It has one hard move on it at the top, which is more a matter concentration and balance than real difficulty. The mild pain, which I was monitoring for a change that would tell me it was time to stop, seemed to increase my concentration. I was with my climbing partner, a friend who had not climbed in five years, and a new friend who had not climbed on rock before. Two said they were impressed; my partner had seen me do it before. I was just happy.

We only did three pitches there before rain set in. On our way along the Parkway, we got past the rain cloud. We decided to stop at Barrett’s Boulder. This is a nice little crag with six climbs on the side of Hwy 181. In the summer the rhododendron and tree cover completely conceal the crag from the road visually, though not audibly from road noise.

My partner lead Obvious Route (5.8) which is a fun flake with a huge undercling move. I top roped a climb I have done now many times on which I believe I made the first ascent in about 2010. The reason for this FA, I believe, is not because I’m such an awesome climber, but because it is not an obvious line like Obvious Route and Skywalker’s Revenge on either side of it. I just claimed it and named it on http://www.rockclimbing.com (see it here). And following is a video of me climbing it: Climbing “Biohazard”. I also have a video of me climbing Barrett’s B… (5.9) (not my name): Climbing 5.9.

Click on new friend to see a pre-rain attempt on Homegrown. My other friend of longer acquaintance stayed behind the camera of the pictures that I have.

My partner (click here) and I (click here) struggled on what I call “Sharp Loaf”, which I have climbed clean several times, but certainly not this day. I call it that because the last hold you see us struggling on is shaped like a loaf of bread but is sharp and takes a strong open-handed grip. I need some more hangboarding before I try it again. To make the move on the “loaf” is the crux, and I would say a 5.11b move.

I am genuinely thankful for friends, old and new, to climb with, challenging ourselves, having good conversation, and doing it all outdoors on a pleasant day. We dodged rain, mostly, and injury, and I, for one, came home tired and satisfied.  I have so much to be thankful for to God.

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I’m not getting out to climb often enough to improve these days, but I am amazed how well at once a month I am maintaining. I do some training on the hangboard, door frames, and pull-up bar. We climb in the morning at a South facing local crag. We were 75% of the time in the shade since the Sun had not come around the corner. Of the four climbs we did two of the climbs that we did were positive slopes with minute holds, almost friction climbing. Three were sport climbs (having bolts to clip into, for the uninitiated), and one was a mixed route (meaning it had bolts (2) and needed gear placed (in this case cams)). There was a 5.8, a 5.9, and two 5.10’s. I flashed one of the 5.10’s. I enjoyed the mixed lead most and have some pictures of my climbing partner and me leading it. The day was surprising pleasant for a summer day in the South. There were occasional cool breezes and random small clouds and some shade. The insects were slight, the other climbers out of earshot, the skies exceptionally blue, no injury, and several clean (no falls) topouts. Our conversation was pleasant, and I believe God glorifying, and my mind was cleared. Such nice days make the harder ones more manageable. It is good to set aside and commit such days to the One who “gives to His beloved even in his sleep.” (Psalm 127:2)

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Lead on a mixed 5.8

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Partner entering the crux sequence.

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That’s what I need to take it to the next level- local endurance. “Local endurance is a muscle group’s ability to sustain effort over a period of time.”

I was climbing on Sunday, the second time in a comeback attempt after an injury. My finger strength is good- no real decline there. I can crimp on half finger pads, but I have maybe 12 to 15 feet of crimping and I’m done for 15 minutes. After flashing a 10a I’d never been on, my partner and I set-up a 10d on top rope. I knew that I needed to climb fast to make it through the 25 feet of sustained 10d climbing. I was just past it making the next somewhat easier move when the strength drained out of me. I reached for the next hold just above the directional quickdraw we had placed. My fingers would not grip. I came down and my right middle finger went right through the gate of the carabiner, stripping a half inch of flesh off adjacent to the nail. Had I grabbed for the quickdraw? No, the injury would have been much worse. My extended finger meant I only peeled some flesh rather than broken a finger or skewered my hand. Instead, my finger should be good in a week or so. I’m not a free bleeder, so after a momentary spirt of blood, and a shake out (hands above my head to prevent further bleeding), I finished the route without much difficulty. But how frustrating, to be one move away from completing the climb and getting shutdown. My overall strength is sufficient for higher grade climbing, I just need this local endurance. So here are two websites that describe training for this deficiency:

Learn to Train: Local Endurance for Climbers

Training: Maximize Your Endurance

I hope to increase endurance through these workouts. I am always having to balance responsibility, desire, time pressure, enjoyment, higher priorities, and relaxation. I like to play hard and rest well. I am thankful to God that I still can, but wonder with my most recent injury if that will be possible much longer. I wasn’t doing anything extreme or foolish. I just strained connective tissue from midway down my leg to around the knee. For a time running and climbing stopped and even walking any significant amount. As they say, things just don’t heal like they used to. Both life and climbing are challenging and take strength. 

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I rock climbed at Crowder’s Mountain for the first time today. My partner said it is “also known as” (aka) ‘Crowded Mountain’. It was that. We had to park on private property where a donation was requested about a 1/4 mile away. Most of the people on the approach seemed to be there for hiking and viewing rather than climbing. Though we saw many climbers, we did not have to change what climb we wanted to do or wait once. I had heard some voices at the top of the climbing area. It turns out that the 5.10a climb I was doing had a lip at the top, almost like a banister for the flat spot on top. When I popped up over the top at least 20 young people were lounging on the ground and rocks. One young woman was sitting on the anchors. I said, “Excuse me.” She moved and said, “I’m sorry.” The whole group was staring at me silently, so I said, “Oh, is there an easier way up?” Most laughed, but one limited English-language lady began to explain and point to where the trail came up. I listened politely, shook my head approvingly, and walked away.

It was foggy when we first arrived and the rock was not totally dry. The rock is very different from where I usually climb in the High Country. There were alternating layers of metamorphic rock: hard, iron rich layers and chossy, mica-rich, weak layers. Odd shaped nubs, jugs, and cavities were everywhere at the interface of the two layers. We climbed 30 foot 5.7 and 5.8 for warm-up on the back side of Finger Wall, then a 5.8 and 5.9 (though we both agreed it was much easier) on the back of David’s Castle. Then we climbed a sustained 5.10a on the Practice Wall, followed by an attempt at Burn Crack (5.10c) It lived up to its name, overhung and intense for the first half. Both of us are coming off of injury and neither of us finished it. I was pleased to have done so well after 5 weeks off of climbing from a knee injury. The ability to begin again is a blessing from God.

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The Finger (Wall) Crack

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Standing in the Gap

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Transition from chimneying to layback crack

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A pleasant view

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With my partner at the top

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The Piedmont and the Charlotte skyline

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Feeling It

On MLK Day I went bouldering at Rumbling Bald with a large group of 20 and early 30 somethings, 6 guys and 2 gals. I’m used to this scenario since climbers approaching 60 are not common. I seemed to be off to a good start, warming up and climbing a V3 in the first hour. It was in the mid-20’s temperature but with the full sunlight and copious clothing it was not a problem. The hardest issue to overcome in winter bouldering is cold rock, not cold air. If it is early or shady or a stiff breeze, the rock is cold, and my fingers don’t function well. After the warm-up, Trailside Boulder, three of us moved on to another area to try out easier climbs while the bulk of the group went to project a V10, Pilfer. We tried out some new rock to me, and I started having trouble. I climbed a few V2’s and V1’s but couldn’t even complete another V3. I should be sending V4’s and challenging V5’s, but not today. We regathered with part of the group who were cruising V6’s and 7’s. One diminutive (in size, not ability or intensity) girl was working a V5. I alternated with her having a go at it. We were shut down at the same move, but for qualitatively different reasons. She had reach issues but she was so controlled and fluid. I was stabbing at the holds and began waning in endurance and ability to retry. Our little group of three moved off to the Bart Simpson Boulder. I think that is a ridiculous name and propose ‘Shark Attack’ as an alternate. The other girl in the group suggested the name ‘Narwhal’, which I could go with. After doing Marge (V1), I watched my partners do it, too. Then I set up to do Bart, a V3, probably so rated because to the top-out. I threw my left leg up to complete the mantle; my foot cramped. I lowered my foot, stretched it out, and put it back up. I started the mantle; I struggled to get over center. I lowered my body to give a more concerted effort. When I put pressure on my hamstring something audibly popped on my left shin, migrating like a flash up to and around just below my knee. I groaned and came off. My climbing partner and fellow teacher knew me well enough to know that I don’t verbalize often. I lay writhing in pain on the pad. Would I be able to walk? Had I destroyed my knee? Was if muscular, tendon, ligament? After much rubbing and feeling around I tried to stand. Amazingly my knee was not collapsing, but it sure hurt. My partner later admitted that he was trying to figure out how to carry me out. It took some time but I could hobble. Even more amazing was that I actually climbed some more later, my partner picking a problem that involved almost no left leg involvement, Basketball Mantle (V3).

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Watching my partner, C., get back into climbing after some time off. Wish I could climb so well off the couch.

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Watchers rather than Spotters

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J. is concentrating rather than posing for the picture.

James on Pilfer3

J. on Pilfer, V10, is what all of the effort is about.

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D. making the first move on Basketball Mantle (V3) look easy

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V1? right of Basketball Mantle

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You have to palm the Basketball and throw a high right smear of both arm and leg to mantle this V3.

Now I sit at home, thankful for a snow day from school to pursue healing, blogging, and reading, and even more thankful that the pain is subsiding and the function returning. But healing doesn’t come as quickly as it once did, and for that reason I like to stay in shape, pursue good nutrition, and take calculated risks (most of the time).

Even with the injury and climbing frustration I enjoyed being out with other climbing enthusiasts, observing the beauty of God’s Creation: blue sky, warm sun, sleepy winter boulder field, ice calving off the cliff behind us, and even the natural incuts of holds and friction of a cold day at the boulder field. This transition of life has its difficult moments, but I am thankful to still be able to heal and try again another day. It will not always be that way, and that will be OK, too, since I look forward to a better transition.

Thanks to D. for the pictures, save hers, which I took.

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I know people that don’t know how to play and others who don’t how to work. I like the addition to the old saying by Maria Edge recorded in Wikipedia, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy; all play and no work makes Jack a mere toy.” Keep me far from both kinds of people, because for the one you will constantly have to pull their weight and the other will perpetually be a weight to your spirit. Upon reflection, however, I think that knowing how to work and knowing how to play are both learned. So perhaps I should feel sadness for someone who doesn’t know how to do either or both. And for my part, I have erred on too much of one or the other in times past. Not that I have the perfect balance now, but I find that when work is over done either by compulsion or by obsession, play is frequently the tonic. When the indulgence is too much play it loses its savor, because change of pace and relief from work are largely the reasons and pleasure in play.

Yesterday and today were examples of when I went after each one in its appointed time.

Yesterday I went bouldering. I had not been climbing in a month and wanted to go ever so much, but life gets in the way sometimes. I didn’t climb particularly well, which is to be expected when I don’t do it often. My climbing partner had not been for a longer time, but we both tried and celebrated our little successes. During a break we were sitting in the sunshine listening to water trickling over pebbles beneath the nearby boulder and admiring the large trees around us. It was probably below 40 degrees, but we were heavily clothed and the thin overcast did little to obscure the warmth of the sun. There was no breeze and we sat mostly in silence much of the time. Later I observed that I think that I needed the excuse of going climbing today to be allowed to sit in the woods and be quiet. I did enjoy climbing and succeeded at several problems; I enjoyed the conversation; most of all I enjoyed the winter woods in hibernation and the rest it gave to my soul.

Today I set aside for attacking the huge job of cleaning the leaves off of my three quarter acre lot, knowing full well that it was only a start that I was going to make and not a completion. Usually there is little reason to start this chore before the New Year because willow oaks are reluctant to shed their leaves. This year they came down several weeks earlier because a heavy, wet snow pulled them down as it sloughed off in the wind and warmth. I had previously blown some leaves away from the back of the house, so today I began by hauling 10 loads on my painter’s drop cloth. Next I climbed up on the roof and blew the gutters out with the leaf blower and did the same on my neighbor’s roof. Our growing season is long and grass frequently grows even through parts of winter. Leaves in high grass are very hard to get up. I mowed back and forth pushing the leaves in one direction. Periodically I stopped the mower and raked up leaves onto the drop cloth. I trimmed branches and cut down dead flowers and hauled downed branches. I surprised myself and finished the whole front yard and 30 feet away from the back of the house.

Why am I recording all of this work and play? Who cares and why would I care to remember? Well, my blog is more about me reflecting on life than having a following, though I hope that you may benefit from my musings and ramblings. I am reminding myself that I value working hard and playing hard and sleeping well, because I think these are right and good and I am thankful to have the strength to be able to. And when I pause to think about it, I hear the encouragement or admonition, depending on my frame of mind: “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (I Corinthians 10:31) I hope that I have and hope that you and I will in the New Year.

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Bright day, Boulder, and a Buckeye tree

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Reaching for the topout hold

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Many of the Thanksgiving traditions of my family are over 30 years old: the meal with the brothers at the oldest’s house, the flag football game, the day after hike, guests from near and far. Many of the children who are now parents don’t really remember Thanksgiving any other way. But as spouses have been added, which means extended families, the traditions have had to flex and bend to traditions and schedules of other families. The day after hike used to be on “Black Friday”, sort of a rejection of the shopping madness for a stroll in the mountains and conversation with family. But this year and last the big meal was on Friday, and this year the hike was on Thursday. Rather than brothers and spouses and children and cousins, it was trimmed down to my oldest brother and me.

We explored a few ruins and cemetery in the Sugarlands of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There was once a thriving community on this gentle slope below Bulls Head of the Mt. LeConte. The sugar maples upslope were a source of sugar and the name of the community. There was Pi Beta Phi settlement school begun there in 1920 with a stone house for the teachers and later a CCC Camp for workers in the young National Park.

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Catching rays in the leafless Autumn before the dim winter days

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The main school house? The boarding quarters or dining room?

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Rest under the plush carpet

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Emma

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Creek crossing

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Teacher’s House

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Kitchen

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Living Room

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Beech and Sourwood juxtaposed

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Bedload scouring

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Both lively and peaceful

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Double Duty- cleared land and separated

After the hike I went to visit my 3rd born. Arriving just before dark, we went down to Kingston to see the sunset. Having already set, we walked the concrete “boardwalk” enjoying the fading colors and good conversation.

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Too late and just in time

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On Saturday I went bouldering at Lilly Boulders at the Obed Scenic River climbing area. I was by myself at first but met up with another climber with whom I enjoyed the day. I was climbing exceptionally well, and truth be told, the grading of climbs seems easy here than at home. The day was perfect for climbing: crisp, dry, sunny.

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One wall at Lilly Boulders

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Lots of good climbing

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Approach Pose

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One of the climbs on my bucket list has been climbing the Sitting Bear spire just below Ginger Cake Mountain. It was a beautiful day. However, I have been sick for quite some time and felt generally exhausted and very out of breath by the time we made the short, but steep approach. Every climb on this rock starts off with an overhang. In fact I would not at all be surprised to one day hear that it has become Laying Bear. The head of the bear makes it appear to be not only top heavy, but also weighted to one side. But not today for I climbed it. Truth be told I was sore and tried to lead the 5.9, “Original Route”, but could not make it over the overhang setting trad gear. So, I told my partner that I wanted on top. He tied an etrier (he pronounced it long “a””tree””a” suggesting that the word is French). With my handy stick clip I aided up a set of bolts to the last two moves before the top. I cheated my way to the top then set it up on toprope. The “Original Route” was not that hard without the hanging out to set pro. On the way up I was amazed at two of the old bolts. I referred to them as tool shed protection because they looked like someone had cut out a piece of mower deck, bent it at right angle, drilled a round hole, and afixed it with whatever small bolt they had on hand. In fact, the lower of the two appeared to be about a 3/16 inch bolt. Perhaps the old climbers climbed more by faith than by sight. The view on top was beautiful, relaxing, aesthetic (as one blogger put it). The head of the bear is just above treetop so that you can see quite well but at the same time feel like part of the forest. The view toward the South Mountains was reasonably clear, not quite what you would need to see the buildings in Charlotte which I have on rare winter days. The angle on the gorge allowed you to see all of the main points and straight down the river to the exit at Shortoff. We tried another 11d to the left reaching the rather blank looking face. It wasn’t the best climbing day I’ve had but doing something I’ve wanted to do on such a beautiful day with good conversation was quite refreshing.

Foot of Sitting Bear

Overhung Starts

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Etrier Arete

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A bright and glorious day

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Aesthetically Pleasing Linville Gorge

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Tool Shed Pro

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It’s a pity when life gets in the way of blogging (just kidding!). But I have so many thoughts and experiences from the summer that I could blog for quite some time. It is not likely to happen as I see more things happening soon, but that’s OK.

I did want to share a few thoughts and pictures. I don’t often suggest books for several reasons. I do more technical reading than reading for pleasure, and frankly many books don’t meet my high standard of what I would unreservedly pass on to those I call friends, or enemies for that matter since I want them to one day be friends. A book that I can enthusiastically suggest is “The Book That Made Your World, How the Bible Created the soul of Western Civilization” by Vishal Mangalwadi. Because of his culture and his faith he simultaneously looks at the West as an outsider and insider at the same time. I keep having the feeling that he is correcting much error from lies our culture has fed us about how we got to where we are. He uses personal experiences and copious quotes to show the deep imprint of the Bible on western culture. I think that you will hear more about it here once I am finished with it.

My friend, colleague, and climbing partner, CC, took me to two boulders I’d never been to before. In fact, he had only been there a few days before with another climbing buddy for the first time cleaning about ten problems, laying a thick base of branches in a wet spot, and clearing part of a large fallen tree. I was privileged to try out the new rock. I like to go back to old familiar routes, but there is a particular excitement about trying new routes, and particularly ones that haven’t been climbed before. I was definitely not climbing at the top of my game, only topping out on a V1 and 3 V2’s. I tried two V4 and got shut down. Both problems involved a gaston with my left hand that I could not stick. It has challenged me to train that weakness. On the second one I discovered that if I did a side pull with my right hand instead, I could top out to the left much easier. We both agreed that it would rate as a V2. I decided to name it “Easy Out”. The two pictures are of me on the right sidepull and the topout. We saw several Cardinal Flowers in the wet, rich spots by the creek. I definitely want to go back, and hopefully clean some problems on new rock myself. (Photo credit: CC with his phone)

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Lobelia cardinalis

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Taking it “Easy..”

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“Easy Out”

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