Monday, March 4, 2013

The List

Yesterday, I went climbing indoors at the Triangle Rock Club with my friend, Jon.  Okay, before we go any further, here's a picture of Jon so y'all know what you're dealing with:

Climbing with Jon may seem rather not remarkable, but in a way it is.  You see, Jon and I met in college in Pennsylvania and climbed together during our formative years with the sport.  We used to live and breathe climbing, travelling with one another and friends around the continent in search of new challenges.  But now for one reason or another, neither of us have really climbed much in the past year.  And both of us find ourselves living in Durham, NC of all places.

The climbing session went by without a hitch.  Our hands tied the necessary knots without a second thought.  We efficiently belayed one another with movements firmly ingrained in our muscle memory.  The two of us fell into a casual banter that reflected our comfort with one another borne from years of climbing in infinitely more committing situations.  And we slightly sucked at climbing.  The technique, the footwork, the movement was still there.  Endurance and finger strength had obviously ebbed over time.

By the end of two hour's worth of climbing, my forearms were inflamed.  I found my hands hardly able to maintain grip on the bulbous holds of a 5.6, a route I could have done blindfolded and in clown shoes in previous years.  Jon and I resolved to get stronger and get out of doors.  We began reminiscing about previous exploits in the mountains.  We even ran into another climber we recognized from our haunts at Seneca Rocks, WV.  The three of us parted ways promising to explore the vertical bounds of North Carolina together.
Just today, I was cleaning out my wallet.  Movie stubs, receipts, stacks of women's phone numbers... anything but money of course.  That's when I came across a list that I wrote to myself back on the eve of a new year entitled "GOALS FOR 2010".  I cannot remember the exact circumstances under which I wrote it, but from knowing myself all too well, I must have been feeling particularly unmotivated at the time.  The list was comprised entirely of climbing goals and would make for a busy year.  What really stands out for me is that out of eight goals, I think I only accomplished one that year.

The year 2010 was the last year that I really devoted to climbing.  It was a great year.  I led some of my hardest routes.  I earned a Single Pitch Instructor certification from the American Mountain Guides Association.  But boy oh boy did I majorly fail in terms of the goals I set for myself.  Looking at the list, I slowly remembered the reasons (or excuses) that made me miss each.

MOJO - Mojo is a classic bouldering problem at a climbing area in central PA called Hunter's Rocks.  It is an overhung prow of rock with large bucket holds along the underside to a height of 10-15 feet, whereupon you must climb up a vertical face and finally mantle the finish at about 20 feet off of the ground.  I think it is rated a V0 at Hunters.  It would probably be rated a bit harder at other areas, but who knows.  My weak upper body strength combined with the problem's reputation of twisted/broken ankles for those who botch the top out always had me worried.  In truth, I had climbed the route a couple of times before 2010.  I distinctly remember the first occasion, pulling up onto the vertical face, scared, and realizing it was safer to finish than to try and back off.  My friends Brandon, Kim, and Erin cheered me to the topout.  I can only guess that I put it on the list just to scare myself once again.  That or I meant to climb the "second pitch" of Mojo, which some argue is especially fun when bolstered with certain herbal supplements.

Me.  Bouldering somewhere.  With a sweet afro.

5.10 SPORT ONSIGHT - My partners and I typically only climbed trad at moderate grades, so this should have been a pretty good goal.  Unbeknownst to me, I had already ticked this box as well in the past.  Jon actually reminded me of it yesterday.  In a neglected corner of the Lower Quarry at the Bellefonte Quarry, there lies a short, dirty, overgrown limestone slab.  On each square yard of its surface emerges a polished limestone orb which led my friends and I to refer to it as "the Boob Wall".  If we were more PC than juvenile at the time, we would have called it the Knob Wall or something.  I'm just reporting history here.  There I led a 5.10 sport route named Buried Treasure, a reference to the amount of cleaning the first ascencionists performed before climbing it, no doubt.  But, as the sole "goal of 2010" that I actually completed, I also onsighted a 5.10+ in Birdsboro Quarry within the year 2010.  Kevin and Denise watched me lead the seemingly holdless face of Welcome to Safe Harbor Direct.  Whenever I attempted to repeat the feat on toprope however, I was as mystified as them.

TRIPLE S ONSIGHT - Triple S is actually an acronym for Shipley's Shivering Shimmy.  The only guidebook for Seneca Rocks where this notorious and difficult 5.8 corner crack is located lists the name in all capitals: TRIPLE S.  So, you can always tell a newcomer to the area when they say they're "just gonna go climb a 5.8 called 'Triples'."  Invariably you see that same climber later, completely cowed, having been shut down on "just a 5.8."  I have always wanted to lead the route onsight and turned down many offers to follow it.  In 2010, I had climbed most of the classic 5.7s.  On a ridiculously hot day with my friend Aaron belaying, I onsighted The Burn and Discrepancy, both softer 5.8s.  I should have gone for Triple S right then, but I didn't.  On the drive back home, both of the front wheel bearings in my truck blew out.  I don't know if I drove back to Seneca that year.

I'm sexy and I know it.  Ellingwood Arete emerges directly from behind my head like a giant dunce's cap.

ELLINGWOOD ARETE - The Ellingwood Arete is a classic multipitch 5.6 deep in the Wind River Range of Wyoming.  In fact, it is one of the 50 Classic Climbs of North America.  It is a knife edge ridge that continues straight up for about a thousand feet.  On my first trip into the Winds, my friend Jeff and I planned to climb it.  We took a rack of hexes, some cams and nuts along with us.  Those never saw much use since we stuck primarily to 3rd class and snow climbing.  Since neither of us had climbed a multipitch rock route before, perhaps it was better that we didn't get to the Arete.  On my third trip to the Winds, I hiked to within sight of it on a rest day when I went trout fishing in Indian Basin.  On my second and fourth trips to the range, I climbed in the Cirque of the Towers, 40 miles to the south.  I didn't even get to the Winds in 2010.

If I ever do get to Rainier, at least I already know what altitude sickness feels like from climbing Pico de Orizaba in Mexico.

MT RAINIER - Um, I didn't get to Rainier either.  The closest I had even gotten to Washington State was the year before when my boss and I tried to climb Mount Hood on the tail end of a business trip.  Two days of whiteouts led to us poaching lines at the Timberline Lodge on our backcountry skis instead.  In 2011 I was offered a job guiding on Rainier for the summer by Alpine Ascents International.  Stupidly, I turned the job down.  In 2012 as I biked down the Pacific coast, I finally saw Mount Rainier for the first time from about 50 miles away.  It is big.  I wanna go back.

Coming off the Columbia Icefield and down the Athabasca Glacier.  Jon is behind me.

N FACE OF ROBSON - Mount Robson is the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies.  Its North Face is another route included in 50 Classic Climbs in North America.  Back in 2007, I went climbing in the Canadian Rockies with my friends Jeff and Jon.  We climbed Mounts Athabasca and Columbia in preparation for driving 50 miles or so north to go tackle Mount Robson's North Face.  At the Athabasca Glacier, a ranger told us that no one had climbed Mount Robson by any route that year because of dangerous conditions.  We went to the Tetons instead.  I have since returned to Canada in order to fish for northern pike, but alas no mountaineering.  I still have my passport.  I still gaze longingly at pictures of the mountain.

GLASS MENAGERIE - I'm not even sure which Glass Menagerie I was writing about here.  Was it the Grade 4 ice route at Roadside Gulley in Lockhaven, PA?  Or the multipitch aid route on Looking Glass Rock in western North Carolina?  I actually led the ice route, Glass Menagerie, the following year.  I was pitifully slow.  Now that I am living in NC, I'm a lot closer to the other route.  Too bad I gave all of my bigwall gear away whenever I divested myself of belongings to bike across the country...  I guess I will have to work on that.

This is pretty par for every ice climbing trip I've taken to New England.  Sleeping in a parking lot after driving until 4 am.

3 GULLIES IN A DAY - This refers to climbing three different routes in Huntingdon Ravine on Mount Washington of New Hampshire in one day.  I really thought that I was going to get this one since I was familiar with a couple of routes.  I had already climbed Pinnacle Gulley with my friend Seth as my second ice climb ever.  On another trip, I climbed Odell's Gulley with my friend Ieva.  That would be the same one where George, the eccentric caretaker of the Harvard Cabin, kept asking her if she wanted to spend the rest of the winter there with him.  Each time he asked, she would barely suppress her laughter while I tried to divert his attention with Oreos and Wild Turkey.  It worked.  Barely.  In early 2010, the ice season was terrible.  Even so, I managed to finally organize a group to head to Baxter State Park in Maine and climb Mount Katahdin (another longtime goal).  On the approach to the mountain, I caught a ski edge on some ice and fell while wearing a 100lb pack, dislocating my arm.  No more ice season for this guy.
My day of thrashing at the gym and the surprise unearthing of my list from 2010 make me want to dust off my climbing gear and get back out into the mountains.  But even more than that, it highlighted the importance of conspiring with old friends and setting goals for oneself.  Whether they're written down or not, I always have several goals on my mind.  All are outdoors related.  Sometimes I achieve them.  Sometimes I fail big time.  But they always serve to sustain me.  Motivate me.  Challenge me.  Right now I have undocumented ideas that propel me to keep trail running, riding and tuning up my bike, paddling my packraft, and perhaps even trying to remember un poquito of my high school Spanish...  We'll see what comes of such ideas.

I wonder what others set as goals for themselves.


  1. You inspire me to set up more concrete outside goals for myself. I had already had some vague cycling, camping & hiking goals for this year. Your blog is pushing me to set dates & to make these goals a reality. :)

  2. Here's what I'm pretty sure that I remember about the circumstances under which you composed that list (or at least began composing it).

    1. It was dark outside.
    2. I was present.
    3. We were in a car (me driving, you shotgun).
    4. I think the car was in the parking lot of the Shiloh Road Sheetz, and we were outbound.
    5. I'm pretty sure that Jason was present.
    6. I'm pretty sure it was Jason's car.

    Since it was presumably circa December 2009, that pretty much narrows it down.