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Posts Tagged ‘Rock 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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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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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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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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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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Overflows from the Heart

"But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart…" Matthew 15:18

CreatorWorship

Pointing to the One who made, saved, and sustains