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Posts Tagged ‘Climbing’

Interacting with a friend on FB with whom I had previously climbed several years ago, we decided to get together and go climbing again. He lives near Crowder Mountain State Park and has been climbing more frequently there of late with a friend. When we arrived the expanded parking lot was already one third full at just after 8 AM: climbers, hikers, and trail runners preparing equipment and signing release forms. The friend knew the various walls and suggested that we head for the back side of David’s Castle to avoid the anticipated muggy radiation on the sunward side. When we arrived and looked over the front side of the wall, I was enamored by the prominent crack front and center. He said it was a 5.7, so I thought it would be a good climb to warm up on and lead before the sun got too hot. My friend had bought a new 60 meter rope that had only been used once. It came with the most convenient rope tarp/carrying sack. You can tell by the rocky ground that this is a heavily visited climbing site.

The crack was both wide enough and deep enough to do some serious chimneying. The sides were fairly slick from climbing use. Even more problematic were the occasional roofs that had to be negotiated. Mountain Project calls this a 5.7+. Frequently that means that some number of people would agree that most, if not all of the moves, taken individually are no more than 5.7, but taken together with fatigue and so forth, perhaps a higher grade is needed.

Here I am about 40 feet up reaching for a quickdraw to attach to the pro I have just placed. It was, as seen here, a bit awkward at times reaching equipment on my harness in the chimney and difficult to chimney my way up with equipment on.

Now about 60 feet up, you can see the several placements of gear as the rope winds up the route. My belay partner who seconded the route said I had good, solid placements on this trad route.

At 80 feet the climb goes into a cave, open at both ends. The belay station was cooled by shade and cool air drawn through the opening with a comfortable stance and a nice view. The view is toward the East and Jackson Knob just south of Gastonia.

I belayed my partner from the top. Here he comes. I holding firmly on the brake hand while I take the picture with my other hand, resulting in only a momentary lapse in rope management, though not compromising safety in any way.

Here I stand comfortably at my belay station, though you can see that even after 15 minutes I am still soaked in now cooled sweat. Just above my left shoulder you can see one side of the 7 mm doubled cordelette that extends around a chock in the crack for an anchor.

My belay partner then belayed our friend as I explored the top of the Castle. There is another way to scramble up to the top, explaining the graffiti in the upper right hand corner. Also, you can see a runner and carabiner attached to a cam as a back-up anchor to his left.

Off to the northeast is what I believe to be Marshall Coal Powered Steam Plant on the western shore of Lake Norman. It is a testament to how still and unstable the air was on this muggy day for the smoke plume to rise so vertically and high. There is a typical amount of haziness for a late Spring day in the Carolinas but not especially polluted since the power plant is over 30 miles away.

The next wall to the north of David’s Castle is Red Wall. It is said to be named after a streak in the rock by that color, but I immediately think of the children’s series that we read to our children about Martin the Warrior defending Redwall Abbey.

The next wall to the south is called Practice Wall. There were quite a few people on top of it since that is where the trail peaks. I can see a slight flash of red of a shirt, can you?

Particularly around major metropolitan areas like Charlotte, every high hill is a placement for towers, radio and cellphone, and microwave drums which are frequently beaming TV, radio and cellphone signals from other towers or stations down below.

You may have noticed that I did not have any pictures of my friend completing the climb. About 20 feet off of the ground you run into the first roof. While trying to finagle around this feature, one foot slipped off and he took a swinging fall. The frequent counterintuitive problem with falling on an easier climb is the larger holds make for more of a cheese grater surface. Nothing was broken and he walked out, but the gouge in his upper left leg was painful and contused so that it swelled quite a bit. Even before this happened he was commenting on how this seemed harder than a 5.7. Since 5.7, 5.8 is about at his limit at the moment, that gives credibility to my saying 5.7+ is a bit sandbagged.* Another interpretation is one that climbers give to crack routes. They are just different and if you aren’t used to crack climbing they seem inordinately hard. There are not many crack climbs in Western North Carolina, so I confess to this being only the third crack climb I’ve done, the others being finger cracks rather than full body chimneys.

Despite the injury, the muggy day, and steep approach, we were happy and whole at the end of the climbing.

*Sandbagged. (adjective) A sandbagged route is one whose grade belies its difficulty; an undergraded route. Derived from the idea that climbing the route would feel as if you were climbing with a bag of sand attached to your harness — i.e., the climb is much harder than it seems. Why Does Sandbagging Occur — Toprock Climbing

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The title is actually the name of a climb at another crag, but it applies better to the climbs at Sitting Bear, a rock formation that truly looks like an animal sitting up on its haunches. It seems amazing that this spire stands since it is at least twice as big at the top as at the base. The approach hike is not over 1 1/2 miles, if that, but it is steep for the last 1/4 mile.

Here my climbing partner leads the Original Route (5.9+). I lead it the last time I was here (see “Bear of a Climb“). It is what is called a mixed climb where you need some trad (traditional) protection pieces and have bolts for quickdraws (1), though the other post shows the ridiculously poor nature of some of the bolts and hangers at this crag.

Looking past the “Bear” on the Gorge (West) side, the other rim of the Gorge is not that far away.

At the bolts and rings and the top of the climb from where my partner belayed me as I came up, he is securing my rope in order to take me off of belay. That way I have a little leeway to move around with while still being secure in case I fall. This stance is about eight feet below the true top and the ~300 degree view. Behind him is a view toward Charlotte. I have been up here when you could actually see the buildings in the “Queen City”.

Given the humidity and scattered showers, you really couldn’t see all that far, but the Gorge is impressive anyway. The mountain top cliff on the left is Hawksbill with Table Rock hidden behind it. Beyond that is a darkly shadowed mountain where resides the North Carolina Wall. The mesa shaped, flat top mountain is Shortoff. The right side or West side of the Gorge is Jonas Ridge upon which the gravel Hwy 105 runs. An indication of how dry it has been is the brown moss on bare rock. It must be a harsh environment for moss to survive in.

Though a simple and easy example, my partner is exhibiting the climbing move called mantling. He is tied in. You can’t see his rope.

That must be quite the sturdy Eastern White Pine on the left, able to grow above the rest on this wind swept ridge. I think it might be drizzling at the south end of the Gorge.

My partner commented that he liked the fact that climbing is the only way to see this view. I am glad that I still can.

I attempted to get pictures of the Solomon’s Seal blooming at the base of the spire.

And here is False Solomon’s Seal for comparison. Notice the difference in position and form of the bloom. If they aren’t blooming, notice the the stems are different colors.

Another beautiful day comes to a close.

We attempted 4 climbs on this spire, a 5.9, 5.10, 5.11, and 5.12, respectively. I did the first one clean, that is, without falling. The 5.10 and 5.11 I did all of the moves but fell once each. On the 5.12 I fell several times and had to yard up one section. I think with much practice that I could do it, but I don’t come here often and won’t get to project it. I sure would like to, but I am thankful for being able to at all. I had to come on a quick trip after work as is was. A few hours of enjoyable exertion out in God’s Creation provide me with days of benefit.

  1. Glossary of climbing terms – Wikipedia and so for all of the terms you don’t quite understand

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The sun was out, the breeze was cool, the sky was clear, then variably and partly cloudy, and the climbing was good. Showing someone climbs on a crag is fun, and I even climbed one I had not climbed. We got in ten pitches in seven hours. It wasn’t a record pace, but we weren’t in a hurry. I never get tired of this view from the top of Black Fork Cliffs. It is in my county and yet it seems worlds apart, so secluded and isolated.

Two fires in the last dozen or so years have robbed the cliff base of its shade, but that in turn is generating a fast renewal. It seems early for Frazier Magnolia to be blooming, but there it was.

Psyched again and doing new pitches he’d never been on. Notice that the rope is already on the wall. How did that happen? It’s called stick clipping. In my case, I used an extendable painter’s pole with a device on the end that holds the quickdraw (shown on the bolt in the picture). This makes the climbing safe from ground up.

We refer to such climbs as next pictured as “one move wonders” because most of the climb is very easy except for the one move he is trying to make over what looks like a “warped wall” from Ninja Warriors.

The stainless steel rings at the top of a sport climb are secure, giving a comfortable stance for looking around. The black lichen looks like pits in the rock, but aren’t. I cannot figure out the dead pine tree. Am I seeing another tree behind it cause the bizarre shape appearance of the trunk, or is it really that odd looking?

Contemplating.

Lunch snack and belayer rest. Maybe that’s what he was contemplating. When is he going to get up? The Komodo’s (a defunct brand similar to Crocks) keep my climbing shoes clean between climbs.

This rock formation looks like a spire or tower, but on the back side it really only sticks up about 10 feet above its attachment to the wall.

It looks cool even if it is an easy climb.

Notice in the next two shots my right hand, brake hand, position, as I rappel. Brake.

Feed rappel.

Broadhead Skink (Eumeces [Plestiodon] laticeps) (1): Such creatures make our attempts and pride about climbing seem rather pointless.

This is the second, and I might say, successful attempt. I couldn’t touch the move over the vertical section just after the second bolt. I saw him do it and still didn’t know what to do.

Another day out in the woods and fresh air, on the rock, thankful for the “One Who made, saved, and sustains” this world, and more specifically, me. May you see His care for you and choose to follow Him, too.

  1. Species Profile: Broadhead Skink (Eumeces [Plestiodon] laticeps) | SREL Herpetology (uga.edu)

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On my bucket list of climbs I’ve wanted to do was The Nose at Looking Glass Rock. Today I led all four pitches. This brave fellow was psyched to do it with me.

The gravel road approach was gated and we didn’t know that there was another way closer, so we walked in three miles from the Education Center.

Along the way was a nice waterfall, but checking it out would have to wait until later.

The parking at the approach trail is about 0.3 mile from the base of the rock, though quite steeply up, especially with a pack of climbing gear.

To my eye this rock face is odd both in overall shape and features called “eyebrows” throughout the rock.

I wanted to lead the climb, which is a 5.8 and well within my wheelhouse. It is a different style of climbing, however, because one must use the ‘eyebrows’ as underclings (1). The weather was pleasant for hiking and climbing, but unexpectedly cloudy, cool, and breezy at times.

It is always good to see that your belayer is alert and paying attention. You can clearly see that this climb is the most popular by the impact of foot traffic at its base. Certain climbs are called “classic”, which I have never quite understood. Does that mean people like it, it has been around a long time, that it is interesting or otherwise aesthetically pleasing, or some vague combination of all of these? After some difficult climbs we could not complete later, mostly because of lack of good protection (2), I commented that perhaps the reason you only ever hear about half a dozen climbs out of several hundred is that most are crazy hard or too run-out (3) for most people to want to climb them.

When you trad (4) climb you place protection devices like stoppers, hexs, tri-cams, slings, or cams like the one pictured here. Then you clip your rope into a carabiner attached to the end that catches your fall. This was a solid or ‘bomber’ placement. There are sections on this wall and this climb where there are handholds but no placement for protection. This results in a run-out situation. By the way, do you see how I mark my equipment?

Following is the view at the first set of belay anchors about 90′ up. Spring has just begun at this level but not much higher. My partner commented on how he likes the contrast of fresh green and gray limbs, because the gray accentuates the bright green of new leaves.

I was the lead climber on this climb. My partner was the follower. He is seen here cleaning the route, that is, collecting the protection that I had set. Notice in some of these pictures the visual illusion that the surface is not very steep, as in the foreground here. None of this climb is truly vertical, but except for a few ledges, it is a 60 to 85 degree wall.

And here we are on one of the ledges transitioning for me to begin leading the next pitch (4).

Being such a popular and old climb, I saw several old and broken pieces of pro along the route. The piton pictured is really old school.

The views were great. Note the occasional evergreen amongst the bare deciduous expanse.

It is always nice to have a comfortable place to sit when you are belaying, though it is not frequent. Notice the parked cars at the Looking Glass Mountain Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I had stopped there many times in the past, had a picnic with the family there once, and several times thought that I’d like to climb this rock. I wonder if any tourists with binoculars were spying our progress this day? I think that the peak behind the peak behind the overlook is Richland Balsam.

I gave my partner a hard time, saying this picture looked like he was a model for outdoor clothing. You can see some older, though quite sturdy, bolts he is tied into. This location is the lunch ledge which is still not level but reasonable to walk around on untethered away from the edge.

The following four images from the top combine to make a 180 degree panorama from south through west to north. We didn’t stay here long because it started sleeting. Yes, it was sleeting in late April. Well, it does happen rarely on the high peaks in mid-summer.

Time to rappel back down. Once again it looks nearly flat in the foreground but isn’t. The blue device through which there are two bites of rope in his left hand is called an ATC (5).

In the following selfie you can see the reflection of not only the phone with which I am taking the picture but also one of the bolts to which I am attach and my partner is rappelling and the tree line at the top of the peak.

On the hike out we saw some wildflowers like this blue flag and May Apple.

I got closer to the waterfall, which had a 20′ overhang to its right.

This day was the first time I have climbed at Looking Glass Rock and the first 4 pitch climb I have completed. It was a pleasant day with lively conversation. I see endless views of God’s beauty in the rocks and trees and sky and flowing water. It gives rest to my mind and challenge to my body to be out in His Creation and sharing it with someone. Perhaps that is part of the reason that I share it with you. I want to you to enjoy it with me, acknowledge the beauty of God’s work with me, and resolve to get out more and enjoy it yourself. Come along with me if you like.

  1. undercling- fingers and palms facing up and pushing up to counteract downward foot pressure for stepping up.
  2. good protection- strong enough to catch you and frequent enough to prevent long falls
  3. run-out- excessive distance between climbing protection that may result in a long and dangerous fall.
  4. pitch- the distance of climb between two belay stations equal to less than the length of the rope
  5. ATC- Air Traffic Controller was named by Black Diamond and now colloquially referred to for all similar devices, sorta like Kleenex is for all facial tissue.

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Our daughter came to cook and freeze food for us so that I could get some reprieve from a combination of outdoor and house work. While and because she worked and because the weather and other responsibilities that didn’t allow too much outdoor work, I spent some time with the grandchildren.

Besides cooking, there was also homeschool, because in homeschool, “school is never out”. Of course, the saying alludes to the fact that all situations are opportunities, like the more traditional one pictured and all others, to learn and grow.

One day we took a walk at the local greenway, except we got off the beaten path to see something different. I guess we will call it a fieldtrip.

We actually walked about 2 miles after an hour or so of playing on the Beanstalk Playfort*.

The next day brought continuous rain, so while the my daughter worked and my wife and grandson napped, my granddaughter (E) and I went to the climbing wall.

With a little suggestion and growing confidence with exposure, she began using her toes more and getting to the top more. She met a girl her age with whom she climbed abit.

This was only E’s second time climbing but she enjoyed it thoroughly.

The old man couldn’t stay off of the wall either, even though he’s been declared a bit “off the wall” at times.

The unexpected part was that E had picked up my phone and was taking pictures.

We asked the employee behind the desk and new climbing friend of mine to take a few pictures. I would like to encourage you to check out Bigfoot Climbing Gym**.

I did a traverse around the children’s wall, which was quite challenging, especially these pink and orange holds. Actually, I couldn’t go up them at all and barely traversed across*** them.

We had a fun time and I read to her several chapters of “Tales of the Resistance”, second in a three book series, over the five days they were here. All were encouraged, but I think my daughter was just tired.

*Our local playground pictured here from the website, third picture down on the left.

**https://bigfootclimbinggym.com Check out the 1st anniversary events. It would be a good, inexpensive way to check out the gym.

***Is “tranversed across” a redundant phrase, or does it communicate, as I am trying to, that as I traversed I went across these to climbs?

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I enjoy relating to serious, fun-loving young people. How can they simultaneously be both you may ask? A person can know what is serious, consider and muse on it and discuss it and act on it, and still have a good sense of humor and enjoy fun challenges and take reasonable, considered risks.

The climbing partner with whom I have been out the most in the last six months is just such a person. He is a former science student of mine who loves to climb, is getting married soon, just started his first nursing job right out of college, and most importantly shares the same faith as me. Life still challenges me with work and play and relationships and worship. As a result, there is plenty to talk about.

Because of where we now live, we meet approximately halfway in between at Rocky Face Mountain Recreation Park. The old quarry has numerous and wide ranging difficulty of sport climbs. I usually post pictures of one or both of us actively climbing, but the mood of the weather, the climbing, and the conversation had me pointing my camera elsewhere.

Reorganizing equipment at the top of the first pitch.*
Happy, but on edge on the first pitch
Shutdown, resting, and figuring out where to go.

On the point of climbing, I suggested that we climb two pitches to the top of the second tier since I had never been there. I bit off more than I could chew on the upper tier and had to traverse left to an easier climb and then far back right further up. You can see this in the following picture.

Check out the rope at far left and stretching across the middle to the right, and me sitting on top under the tree.
Hanging out on top
No easier approach to a climbing area can be had.**

As I said earlier, this climbing area was an old quarry. One of the biggest needs for infrastructure is gravel and stone. The hole pictured below between my feet is the remnants of a bore hole. It is an added boost to perspective to see both my feet and my belayer on the ground.

For the next climber, climbing is no big deal with the right equipment. I think that it is an Eastern Fence Lizard, though arguably out of its habitat if that be so.

*Yes, we are tied in to rope and/or anchors the who time for safety.

**The temperature changed from mid-thirties when we arrived to lower sixties with high solar gain. I am actually getting ready to rappel down, so I have two shirts that I took off stuffed into the shirt I am wearing, giving the appearance of a beer belly.

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What, you may ask, do those two words have to do with one another? Well, I’m the dinosaur who took two newbies out to go climbing. As they described it, they had climbed two or three times each indoors but never outdoor and I was the “pro”*. There was a little fear of heights, a little curiosity, some determination, and a good amount of enthusiasm. Father and I attend the same church. His daughter came in to town specifically for this outing. It was cloudy and uncertain when we met at the rendezvous point, but as we traveled up the mountain we could see the sun shining on the side of the mountain where I knew we would be climbing. It turned out to be both a beautiful and pleasant day with plenty of challenge and a measure of success.

Flaking the rope; grinning for the camera
Father and Daughter; yeah, definitely related
Enthusiastic Start
Working it.
Always good to have an attentive belayer

The next picture is very instructive to those who have not climbed before. At any level of climbing, you reach a challenge point. The pose reveals the intensity. The facial expression shows the focus and goal. Sometimes it is fun to just cruise up a climb, but challenge, getting shut down, and overcoming the by problem solving and focus are major draws to climbing. Add to that training for strength and technique in order to up your game, and you have many of the central components of good climbing.

Seeps Keep Green
Challenge can be fun!

I must give credit to the young lady with the iPhone for the great pictures. Indulge me for a moment in a sequence of shots on one climb that I did.

In this next shot, notice the rope going through the carabiner at my left hip. The carabiners and “dogbone” in combination are called a quickdraw. It is attached to a bolt in the wall that protected my move over this small roof. This style of climbing is called sport climbing. You can see other bolts of an adjacent climb at the right.

The next few moves involve crimpers, small fingertip holds for one to four fingers.

The picture below gives a sense of pause which actually happened. Sequence of which hand or foot and in which order the holds are used is important in climbing.

At least the foothold was huge.

The hardest part of the climb, upon which the climb is rated, is called the crux (from crux ansata, literally “cross with a handle”; very appropriate for a difficult move on a difficult hold). This one relates to the smallness of holds as well as the long reach up left to a crimp. Don’t be impressed since it is only a 5.10b climb, far below world class 5.16.

Got it!
Topping out
Building an anchor

Everyone was all smiles and we enjoyed the day. They even said they would like to go again.

Later

*”You are to us”, the protested when I said I was nowhere near that.

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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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‘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

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Beautiful day for a challenge

Stphen belaying

“Belay On.” or Banana on?

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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.)

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From Cliff Top

3x selfie from BF

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Rhodo blooming in Oct

Rhododendron blooming in mid-October?

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Climbing with Friends

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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