Leave No Trace

Rock climbing is getting more popular.  Apparently, so is being a douche.  The San Luis Obispo County wrote a pretty good article about how the ecological impact of rock climbing is increasing as more and more people are finding the sport and going outside with little or no training in our much-beloved “Leave No Trace” paradigm.

In fact, the mentality of the people going out there seems to be semi-retarded.  Here’s a quote from one such noober (one Ha Pham, aged 23) who thought it’d be a great idea to open her mouth:

“They should have signs and stuff and trash cans outside,” said Pham,
who climbs regularly in the safety of a San Francisco gym. “I don’t
think they even clean your rocks off for you out there.”

Seriously woman.  Clean your rocks off for you out there?  Let’s call the Rock Cleaning Service to go out there and shampoo the slopers so they’re extra sticky for you.  The outdoors isn’t about convenience, it’s not about “oh look, there’s a conveniently located trash can in the middle of the fucking forest.  Going outside is about getting away from civilization and enjoying nature as it is without human intervention.  And the gym rats are slowly turning it into Disney World (or they want to, anyway.)

In a way, it’s our own fault.  The article is right – we don’t educate people enough on Leave No Trace, we don’t take these noobs under our wing and show them the ropes.  But that’s because there’s no respect.  No respect for the environment, and no respect for other climbers.  There’s no shortage of theft, vandalism, littering, the whole nine.  It’s frustrating, because that’s the mentality that these gyms are fostering – “climb inside, and for a short temporary thrill go out to the outdoors.”  The gyms are the temporary places – they’ll come and go.  Real climbers – the ones that will stick with the sport longer than a few months – know that the gym is where you go when you can’t get outside.  When it’s too cold, or too far, or simply not in the cards.  Then you go the gym to train.  But going outside… that’s The Real Deal, and it should be respected.

I’m ranting and I have a headache from reading such a singularly stupid comment. 

Another one falls

Trad climbing is inherently risky.  Anyone who climbs knows this.  There are simply a lot of variables in setting your own protection and relying on it to hold you in the event of a whipper (sometimes a really monster whipper.)  To minimize this risk, many trad climbers don’t climb exceptionally difficult routes (some do, and I classify those guys as nuckin’ futz).  Many never go past a 5.7 in their trad climbing, and that’s understandable.  Honestly, a good climber should be able to downclimb a 5.7, and that (to me) sounds like a good escape policy.

Once in a while, though, you read about a climber that just didn’t calculate the variables correctly – or simply fell victim to the unknowns (and there are so many of them).  It’s unfortunate that it happens at all – unfortunate and sad – but it serves as a warning to the rest of us to pay extra attention to everything.  Even (and especially) when we think we’re safe.

Triple Crown, Triple Crooooown!

So we’re back from the Triple Crown.  Well, the Hound Ears part of it.  What a freakin’ disaster.

First off, lemme just say this:  Delta sucks.  Lemme say it again, just so I’m clear: Delta sucks.  Never, ever, ever, ever use Delta if you have to:

  1. Make it somewhere on time.
  2. Make a connecting flight.
  3. Expect any kind of customer service.
  4. Have any kind of need that goes outside of their very narrow worldview.

No, seriously.  Ready for The Saga?  Yeah?  Well, this was my weekend…

We squeaked into the Lauderdale airport, just barely on time.  It took me almost 15 minutes to find a parking spot, Shaunna was inside checking us in, and when I got to her (out of breath from running through the parking garage with backpacks on) she says to me “don’t worry, the plane hasn’t left, it’s an hour behind.”  Yeah, when I say we squeaked into the airport, I’m not kidding.  It was that kind of tight.  Anyway, a thought occurs – one regarding the connecting flight we’re supposed to take from Atlanta to Charlotte.  We ask the friendly Delta guy about it, and he says (in a robotic voice) “Don’t worry, all passengers will make their connecting flights.”  Phew.

An hour later, we’re herded into the plane (literally!  I’ve never seen a plane land and takeoff so quick in my life – it was amazing) and the plane takes off.  The pilot is hauling ass.  You can tell because the flight attendants are glued to the back wall of the plane, and our lips were doing that jiggly thing that lips do at high speeds.  Don’t know what I’m talking about?  Lucky you.

We land at 10:48pm.  Wow, seriously, I’m glad that they’re holding our flight, because our connection was supposed to leave at 10:48pm.  5 minutes of running through the terminals, and we ought to be just fine.

Oh, but wait, what’s that you say?  Our flight left at 10:45?  Not only did they not hold the plane, but it left early?  I become slightly incensed at this.  Shaunna, however, flips her lid.  She tells me that she loves me, and there’s plenty of money to pay for bail if necessary, but that only one of us needs to be arrested tonight so the other can pay it.  I say “no problem” and release the hounds.  Then I sit back and watch Shaunna Do Her Thing.

Here’s a few things I noticed. 

Delta has the shittiest customer service I’ve ever encountered.  I used to think Dell Computers had bad customer service (rerouting calls to Indian call centers full of completely clueless staff isn’t my idea of good service.)  I now believe that Delta has the single worst, least flexible, most infuriating customer service, ever. 

The lady that attended us (and there was a line of about 30 people who hadn’t made their connecting flight) didn’t even speak english.  I mean, yeah, she spoke a little english – probably enough to get by, I suppose, at a grocery store – but definitely not enough to assuage a small army of very irate customers.  She also kept telling us that our only recourse was to stay at the hotel they were telling us to stay at, and that we would be placed on the first flight to Charlotte the next morning at 8:30am.  There were two problems with this.  The first is that Delta wasn’t paying for the hotel – we were.  The second is that we had to be at Triple Crown registration by 8am.  Arriving at Charlotte at 9:30, and then driving for two hours to get to Boone would get us to the comp just in time to see who won.  Needless to say, an unacceptable situation.  Shaunna’s level of frustration escalated, and management was called.

The manager wasn’t a bad guy.  I could tell.  However, he was definitely in a really terrible situation.  Here he was, facing two unbelievably incensed customers, yet he’s a slave to faceless corporate policy.  He repeated his mantra of “not gonna happen” so many times I think it just became automatic for him.   He tried to explain to us that “weather”, as far as reasons that the flights were delayed, etc, was not the fault of the airline, therefore they aren’t responsible for our plight.  Right.  So, before Shaunna got arrested for something far more serious than ‘disturbing the peace’, I dragged her away, put corks on her fangs so she wouldn’t hurt herself (or anyone around us) and off we went, to Plan B.

Plan B.  Maybe we could drive from Hotlanta to Boone.  We hit up the Enterprise Rental kiosk, where a friendly young guy tells us that he can transfer the car rental from Charlotte to Atlanta, and we could get a car.  But we’d have to bring it back to Atlanta.  Even though our flight home is from Charlotte.  Yeah.  We asked him why we couldn’t just return the car to Charlotte, and he said “No, that’s a one-way rental – we don’t do that.”  So we cancelled that rental and popped over to Avis, who does do one-way rentals.  Shaunna’s practically overwhelmed with anger and frustration, and decides that she’s going to go take a walk and set fire to some puppies while I try to handle this.  An unbelievably friendly woman at Avis helps me out, and we get a car.  We also get direction on how to get to Boone… a mere 6 hours away.

It’s 1am at this point.  Boone is (approximately) 6 hours away.  That puts us there at 7am, after having driven through the night.  I’m really looking forward to the comp now, because I just know I’m gonna put out a really amazing performance.  I’m just about overwhelmed myself as I go find Shaunna.

Shaunna had taken a short walk and she’d had a very good idea: she was going to get our baggage (which included, among other things, our gear, our tent, our sleeping bags, our clothes, and our crash pad.)  When I found Shaunna, I’d just passed a lady in a Delta uniform talking to another man in a Delta uniform about contacting the police because of an unmanageable customer.  I rounded the corner, and Shaunna was just in the middle of telling a Delta employee where he could shove his policy.  It took me another minute to find out why she was (again) so angry.

Apparently our baggage had been transferred to a plane.  Namely, the plane that would be leaving tomorrow at 8:30am and arriving in Charlotte at 9:30am.  And there’s no way we could get our stuff off that plane.  Seriously. 

So let’s review.  At this point, we’ve got no baggage, no gear, no clothes, no tent, no crash pad, nothing.  We do, thankfully, now have a car to get to Boone, which we need to in exactly 6 hours or miss registration for a comp that we would be attending on zero sleep and with zero gear.  Okay, it could be worse.

I pile Shaunna into the car, and we head to Boone.  Contact with Suze and Brad is established, and we get accurate directions to Boone.  We take shifts and, sure enough, at 7:00am, we roll into a field full of tents.  I turn the car off, push the seat back, and pass out for 30 minutes.  I wake up with a start, shake Shaunna (who growls at me and rolls over) and run off to register us.  Groggy and staggering, I get all the necessary paperwork and shwag, fill out what I gotta, get Shaunna to do the same, and then we’re piling into a bus that takes us to Hound Ears.  Shaunna had enough sense to keep our climbin’ shoes in her carry-on, so at least we had shoes at this point.  Things were definitely looking up.

Hound Ears, by the way, is a pretty well-to-do neighborho
od/community.  I now understand why the area is only open to climbers once a year, and why they don’t want hundreds of dirtbag climbers tromping through their backyards year-round.  That being said, the area is freakin’ amazing.  Boulder problems of all shapes and sizes, just incredible stuff of nearly every difficulty, all within easy walking distance of each other.  Maybe not as large as Rocktown, but with a very similar variety.  Very stokeworthy.

So we climbed.  We warmed up on the zeros and the ones, started pushing into the twos and threes.  Honestly, all of these were within easy reach.  I only started having serious trouble when I was pushing into the V4/V5 range (which is what I estimated my upper limit at anyway), and that’s exactly where I decided it’d be a good idea to go ahead and bust my ankle.  Satan’s Cookie (V4 on the Caffeine Wall) spit me off in the dirtiest manner imaginable, and I slid down an ill-positioned crashpad to land between a rock and a pad.  There went my ankle.

This was at about 1pm.  So I spent the next 4 hours crawling around with a wrapped ankle and icepacks, watching some sick climbers tear up some sick routes and checking out my peeps pulling hard.  I have lots of photos.  Fa-real.

So after the comp, we decided to eat a delicious dinner (we hadn’t eaten anything in about 24 hours at this point, which probably contributed in no small part to our lackluster performance at the comp) and plopped our carcasses at Ruby Tuesday, where we devoured (that’s right – devoured) some serious burgers and salads and pretty much anything that got in the way, including some lady’s small dog.  Things were looking up.

Oh, but wait, I don’t want to forget the douchebag that kept saying “Triple Croooown” like some kind of backwoods redneck over and over and over and over and over and over again, ad nauseaum.  Holy cow, this guy needs to get new material.  Screw it, he needs to get material, period – he just kept talking for the sake of making noise, and saying the stupidest shit I’ve ever heard (outside of John Madden – but at least Madden gets paid mad loot to say dumb shit).  At first it was amusing, and the guy was charmingly dumb… after an hour of hearing him say “Triple Crooooown!” every three seconds, I was just like “Bro, get off the meth.”  The people around me were borderline homicidal.  After an hour and a half, I was right there with them.  Someone needs to tell this guy that a couple of times really is enough.  And for the love of God, stop making useless noise.  He was polluting my brain with his verbal refuse.  Bleagh.

Anyway, we still had to drive back to Charlotte to drop off the car before 11:54pm on Saturday night, and our flight wasn’t until 10:30am the next morning.  Tasty.  We stuck around as long as possible, and then high-tailed it to Charlotte through two hours of dark, narrow, contruction-equipment-laden twisty mountain roads, and puttered into Avis at exactly 11:54, dropped off the ride and rolled into the terminal to grab our gear (which should’ve been waiting for us at the airport).  We poked around and found the room where our gear was, and we could even see the gear there… taunting us through the locked doors.  I could practically feel the warmth of the sleeping bags in the inhumanly cold airport terminal, and was finally looking forward to a little bit of solid shuteye.  Thing is, the room was locked, and there wouldn’t be anyone around to unlock it until 5am. 

Seriously, I was starting to feel a lot of negative feelings for Delta.  This ‘comedy of errors’ was quickly turning into a tragedy.  We hunkered down in a corner and tried to stay warm with our sweatshirts and whatever else we could wrap around us, and tried to catch at least a few winks.  Exhausted, we passed out. 

5am, almost on the dot, I popped out of my frigid sleep and realized that there were people everywhere.  Lots and lots of people.  Who the hell flies at 5am?  I grabbed the first Delta uniform I could find, explained the situation, and he (the only kind Delta employee so far) didn’t ask for any explanations – he just took us down to the room, made sure our credentials were in order, and handed us our gear.  Groggy still, we then proceeded to check in our gear at the gate and get our boarding passes.  Then we realized that we still had another 5 hours to go before our flight, and the terminal was still ice-box cold. 

Nothing even remotely interesting happens for those five hours, so I’ll fast forward to the three hour layover in Hotlanta where we had a very pleasant afternoon and cursed Delta and everything related to it.  By the time we got home, we just wanted to curl up on the couch and call it a weekend.  Holy crap, what a ridiculous series of stupid situations.  It very much felt like Delta was actively acting against us at every turn.  Their policies are idiotic and counter-intuitive.  I don’t think there’s anything we can do about it, though, except tell the world: Screw Delta.  They pretty much ruined our trip, our comp, and our health, all in one weekend.

I can’t wait for the next Triple Crown event, though!  Very stoked to put up a much more interesting performance at that one.  And in between there the ABS9 comp in Tampa, also stoke-worthy!  Now I just have to make sure this ankle heals up enough to get me on my feet (literally).

By the way, if you made it through that whole story, kudos to you!  I should end it with the classic “and then I found five dollars.”  

Triple Crown Bouldering Series. Yeah, that’s how I roll.

tc1.jpgSo I’m in.  Registered.  Committed.  I will be at the Triple Crown this year, pitting myself against some of the hardest boulderers around.

Okay, not really ‘pitting’ myself directly, that’s just overdramatic bs.  But I will be there, I will be competing, and my score will likely be compared to some much harder climbers than I.  It’s a little daunting, not gonna lie. 

On the plus side, I’m gonna get to climb at three of the Southeast’s finest bouldering destinations (outside climbing rules!)  First destination is Hound Ears, in North Carolina.  Apparently it’s only open to climbing during the comp.  This is something that appeals to me, as one of the biggest (whiny) complaints I’ve heard about the Triple Crown is that “locals have a big advantage because they get to climb there.”  That’s probably very true – but it also makes a victory that much sweeter when you’re topping out the locals.

Second spot, HP40 (that’s Horse Pens 40) in Alabama.  Known for being slopey as hell and graded way hard, it’s supposed to blur that fine line between ‘fun’ and ‘painful’.  I’m looking forward to it in one of those finger-shredding, joint-locking ways.  Shaunna and I were supposed to hit up HP40 during our last trip, but opted instead to remain in the Chattanooga area (a decision which I have zero regrets over).  Looks like I’ll get my chance to leave skin at HP40 after all.  Nice.

Finally, the third jewel in the “triple” crown (hence the name): Stone Fort (a.k.a. Little Rock City, a.k.a. LRC).  Located just outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee, this is actually a fairly small and out of the way locale for bouldering.  While we were tromping ’round Foster Falls and spending lots of time in Chattanooga, we didn’t actually realize that LRC was right down the street until the last day.  We didn’t make it there during that trip, and so I’m happy that we’ll have an opportunity to get there now.  I think we’d have eventually made it there anyway, but the proximity to Foster Falls means there’s always that temptation to skip LRC completely and go hop on some seriously badassed climbing at the Falls.

I don’t have any expectations of ‘winning’ anything at this comp.  I’m going in as an intermediate even though I’m definitely on the lower end of that scale (hardest boulder problem I’ve ever completed is a V4/5 at Rocktown), and I’ve no illusions.  But it’ll be great fun, and I know Shaunna will compete at the higher levels (and potentially do very well!) so it’s exciting.  I’ll take lots of pictures, don’t worry.  Not that you are.

Jeeps go over stuff. It’s what they do.

This video shows why I love Jeeps, and why I want so badly for my Jeep to not suck. I mean, if only the gas mileage were a little better… and I had a roof… and maybe air-conditioning (although that’s not really necessary… a fan would be cool though…)

What’s more fun than throwing me into the ocean?

Throwing me into the ocean armed, of course!
So this weekend’s excursion spearfishing off the coast of Hollywood Beach yielded some seriously nice results. For the first time we kayaked out to the reefs, which is the highest level of luxury. Getting to your destination that quickly and with that little effort almost takes something away from the experience. Almost. Then again, getting there (and more importantly, getting back) without real effort is fantastic.
I met Gibran and Brian out on the ocean (I was running late, as usual) and they’d been diving for a bit before I got there. I missed one hogfish completely, but Gibran and I both came up with a pair of foot-and-change long hogs pretty soon after. Stoked by this progress, we headed out along a really sweet shelf of reef, looking for more. I’m really bad at identifying fish, so I was just poking around for hogs (they’re the only fish I can definitely identify), but there some small grouper and some yellowtail rolling around too.
I floated around until I saw movement, swam down to investigate, and saw a really big fish. It was camouflaged, and I thought it might be a parrot or angel or something equally inedible, but then saw the telltale spines over the head… and realized it was a honkin’ big hogfish. I floated the rest of the way down slowly, took aim, and scored a perfect killshot – there wasn’t even a fight. Anyway, as you can see from the picture, he’s a beaut.
After kayaking back and cleaning stuff off, we took the photos. Some weird crazy guy in tighty whities came strolling up asking to be in the picture. I wasn’t terribly amused (as you can tell from this photo) at being next to some strange guy in his underwear.

Back from Foster Falls

So we’re back from our trip. Originally a foray into the entire Southeastern United States climbing zones, I had planned a whole extravaganza of climbing and driving. This got whittled down to what I like to call “the Bermuda Triangle of Climbing”, i.e. Rocktown to Foster Falls to Sandrock (you could substitute Rocktown for HP40 if you’re so inclined.) This Triad Of Doom would include bouldering (Rocktown or HP40), technical vert (Foster Falls), and then fun vert (Sandrock). We ended up hitting Rocktown (where I sent Double Trouble at The Orb – V4/5!), and then just spending the rest of our time at Foster Falls.
The reality of it is that Foster Falls is pretty darned badassed as a climbing area. A highly enjoyable, highly varied area with plenty of climbs and plenty of variety. No question, though: stay away from the easy stuff. The climbs start getting really fun at 5.10a. Before that, some of the 9’s are halfway decent, but there’s an 8 – Bear Mountain Picnic – that really, really, really, really sucks. Especially if you’re not 6 feet tall. Which I am. But Shaunna’s not. And even I found it pretty unenjoyable.
Aside from this, though, there were some seriously great climbs, and there’s a couple of roof areas (the left and right bunker) that are unbelievably sweet. All 5.12’s and 13’s, and incredibly epic climbs. There’s lots to climb, and the falls – while not especially prolific due to a bit of a drought – are a beautiful area to hang out and swim around (very very very cold water). The camping is fantastic, lots of canopy to guard against rain, very clean and well kept.
Anyway, I would definitely recommend it as a destination for intermediate to advanced climbers – I’m not sure beginners would have a super fabulous time at Foster Falls. And if you’re going there, make absolutely sure you pick up the Dixie Cragger’s Guide. It is an indispensable guide to not just the Foster Falls area, but the whole Tennessee scene (which is pretty extensive), and there’s a separate volume for ‘Bama and Georgia. It has maps and topos and all kinds of information about the routes, so it’s very easy to find everything.
My only caveat: if you’re going to Rocktown, grab the topo here. Includes directions on how to get there (and they’re mostly accurate).
Running to Dr Topo to get the link to the Rocktown guide, I found this video of Jason Kehl’s home away from home (or maybe it really is his home?) Either way, he’s a sick climber, and the video is amusing for a couple of reasons. Biggest one for me? No matter how rural or backcountry the area you’re climbing in, no matter where you are, you can almost always find yourself a 24-hour Super WalMart to take the browns to the Superbowl. It’s true.

Turtles do not belong on Florida’s Turnpike

This is the conclusion that I came to while driving to work today.
As I was cruising down the turnpike, minding my own business, the car in front of my swerved slightly to avoid something in the road. I (being the awesome driver that I am) did the same. As I was driving by I noticed that the object both cars had narrowly missed was a turtle! Mr. Turtle was – quite slowly – making his way across the turnpike. And he was only halfway there.
I’m amazed he made it that far. What is even more amazing is that he would subsequently make it all the way to the median. What he planned on doing once he got there, I can’t imagine. But I’m jumping ahead of myself…
I zoomed by this poor doomed turtle. By the time I’d realized what I’d passed, and how doomed he really was (i.e. risk assessment of me vs. turtle while trying to save said turtle by running out onto the highway) I’d traveled quite a ways. In the end, though, I decided that I had to at least try to help the little hard-shelled monkey. So I hopped off the next exit, paid my tolls, ran all the back North from Commercial Blvd to Sample (I had to make sure I didn’t pass him), and then got back on the Southbound Turnpike.
Lo and behold, I found him. He had indeed made it all the way to the median (it took me forever, between the tolls and the traffic, to get back to him), and was walking along the median, as if a hole would magically appear. I suppose that eventually he would’ve made it to the rest stop, which I believe does have a lake. I wasn’t about to risk it, however, so I grabbed Mr. Turtle, introduced him to my Jeep, and we drove to Motorola together. He explored every corner of my rolling swampy bathtub (and I’m sure felt quite at home, expect for the vibration). When we reached Motorola I called Gibran and we took him to lake Motorola, which has lots of water, lots of fish, and lots of wildlife rolling around in it.
One look of that lake was all it took and Mr. Turtle was waving his arms like mad. I put him down near shore and he scrambled his way down to the lake, where he promptly dove in and swam away as fast as he could. Not even a thank you! It’s okay, though: I know Mr. Turtle is now happier (and safer) than a clam.

Boulderpalooza, bitches!

Gainsville Rock Gym (GRG) is well-known as the best bouldering in Florida… with an incredible group of climbers and route-setters. This year’s Boulderpalooza was incredible.

The American Bouldering Series begins

Not the first ABS competition of the year, but the first for me this season. O-town (Orlando, for the uninitiated), at Aiguille Rock Climbing Gym.
Let me just say, for the record, that the routes set at Aiguille were freakin’ *great*. I had the same opinion of last season’s comp at Aiguille, and I wasn’t disappointed this year. Their route-setters are just incredibly good. Granted, this was a bouldering comp, so I don’t know how their vertical routes are (and as we know from the Gainsville gym, good bouldering doesn’t mean good vert), but the bouldering alone is worth a visit.
The comp was a great time, the gym and routes was as excellent as usual, the event handlers were positive. Even the chili-dogs were good. Did I place? No. But I feel good about how I climbed this event, and I’ll probably do even better at the next one, in Melbourne.

Mikey’s blog
is starting to contain some seriously interesting entries these days. Some might say Mike’s on crack. Those that know better, know it’s not him on the crack. Take a look, you just might like what you read. And if you do, you’ve come to the right place.