Friday, July 3, 2015

A Very Close Call

Yesterday, something happened that I'm still grappling with.  I'm hoping that by writing about it, future accidents can be avoided, and that I'll be able to mentally move past it. But it isn't something that I'll be able to forget.

I'll start with the fact that my family is safety conscious. My daughter wears a helmet when she leads.  We always double check our knots and systems.  We discuss our plans before the climber even leaves the ground.  But despite all that, my daughter was just inches from death yesterday. I thought for a few moments that she was going to die, and there was nothing that I could do to stop it.

I was at the top of "County Ten Gunslinger" 5.12c on the Erratic at Wild Iris.  Ashley had already toproped it, and wanted me to set up something harder.  But I was saving my energy for a redpoint attempt. So to set up a toprope on "When I Was a Young Girl..." 5.13a, I decided not to climb it bolt to bolt.  Instead, all I needed to do was mantle onto an easy slab above my climb, and make my way to the other anchors, up and to the right.  I started to mantle, using an undercling to the left, but the entire undercling immediately started to slide.  In a fraction of a second a slab of rock 18 inches in width and length, and six inches thick, slid off the top, bloodied my hand as I tried to stop it, and went sailing towards the ground.  I screamed "Rock! Watch Out!" and then saw that it was falling straight towards my daughter, Autumn, who was sitting on a large log below.  She didn't have any time to get out of the way.  The block hit, exploding into pieces, eight inches from where she sat.  Her chalk bag sitting at her feet was crushed by a piece, and if she had been sitting just a bit to the left, she would have been killed.  My life, Ashley's life, and Sierra's life would have been tragically transformed in an instant.  Unhurt, but surprised, Autumn has taken the event much better than I have.

It was a beautiful day yesterday.  The wildflowers are amazing at Wild Iris right now, and in the shade it was cool.  It didn't feel at all like a day that could go horribly wrong, and we were too complacent.  We've always told the girls not to hang out under a climber.  We always make sure that they aren't under anyone at Sinks Canyon, and we're usually careful about it at Wild Iris too.  But we hadn't been paying attention this time, and we almost paid the ultimate price.  I've accepted the possibility that I could get injured or even die while climbing.  But I'd never considered that one of my daughters could be killed because I choose to climb.  We read about the deaths of climbers doing dangerous ascents in the mountains, free soloing, or flying wing suits.  We get the sense that you could die in this sport if you push things too far.  We feel the fear of falling, lightning, and possible grizzly bears.  But until recently I didn't think enough about rock fall.  In addition to my family's close call, Chris recently pried a three hundred pound block off the problem "Piggy" at the Rock Shop.  It's a block that people have used as an undercling for a few years now, and it came off the boulder quite easily.  It's easy to imagine how it could have killed someone, warming up for the day, just pulling into the sit start, crushing them instantly and undramatically.

Don't forget that it's possible to be killed on a nice day at the sport cliff or at the local boulder garden. Keep yourself and your kids well away while someone is climbing above.  Be especially aware of loose blocks and flakes when putting up first ascents, and don't be afraid to test any questionable ones with a crowbar.  On February 21, 1992 Robert Drysdale died while bouldering at Priest Draw, Arizona. A one hundred pound block at the top of an established problem, loosened by the winter's freeze thaw, fell as he grabbed it and hit him in the back of the head on his way to the ground.  It's the only death I've heard of caused by bouldering, and it happened because of a loose block.

So if you notice me keeping my distance while you're sport climbing, or yelling at my kids to take their lunch into the woods, I hope you'll understand. I've had a close call. It's made me paranoid.

And I hope you'll be careful too.  Stay safe out there.




Wednesday, June 17, 2015

An Early Summer Trip to Neverland

Finally, three empty days in my schedule corresponded with three nice days in the forecast for Neverland.  I love the place, but good bouldering weather out there and time in my schedule don't overlap very often.

My goal for the trip was to climb "Wilford's Reserve" V7/8, a great line put up by Collin H.  Davin introduced us to the line last year, and Ashley got it then, but I always fell jumping for the lip.  Even when I started at the move just below the lip.  Whether I'd be able to catch it this year or not was a mystery.

We set up camp, and got out there in the evening to take advantage of cooler temps.  Since Ashley had already climbed "Wilford's Reserve" she got to work on "Wilford's Reserve Right" V7, and finished the line before the evening was through.

I didn't climb "Wilford's Reserve" that evening.  But I finally did all the moves.  Including the jump to the lip, just barely managing to catch the swing.

I had warmed up on the amazing line "Aging Moose" V2.  Collin also put up this line with some of the best solid incut holds anywhere.  Ashley decided to try it at the end of the session.
And she did it!  She's been getting brave.
The next day was a rest day.  We hiked to look at some formations, but I tried not to hike too much.  Mostly I just sat in the shade, reading Zen of the Plains by Tyra A. Olstad, and enjoying the birds, butterflies, and wildflowers.  Thirty-six hours with nothing that I had to do, except rest up for the next bouldering session.  Wonderful!
That evening we hiked to the top of the formation just east of camp to watch the sunset.  Some pretty little thunderstorms were moving around the area.  Strange since there wasn't supposed to be any chance of storms in the forecasts I had checked.
After the sun went down, the little storms grew together into a massive thunderstorm with the most intense lightning I've seen since my childhood in Iowa.  The crazy thing was the storm didn't seem to be moving, just growing.  We were lucky not to be in the center of it, but the edge reached us late that evening.  We all got into the truck, and waited for an hour while lightning, rain, and small hail slowly moved through.  When the storm finally moved away it was traveling to the northwest.

The next morning was my one chance to finish "Wilford's Reserve." But the crux hold at the lip was wet.  Rain water was leaking out from under the flake above it.  I stacked pads and stuffed my wool sweater under the flake to stop the slow trickle.  Then used chalk and my cotton shirt to dry off the hold.  After warming up, I was feeling pretty good.  A breeze was picking up, and I thought it might happen.  I got through the beginning feeling pretty good.  I jumped to the lip, started to swing, and my hand ripped right off.  The hold was still damp!  

I was desperate.  What was I going to do?  I decided to give Ashley's beta a try.  Her method includes a heel toe lock in the roof, and moving to the lip to the right of the wet hold.  I'd refused to seriously try it that way last year, because I hate the sensation of having insecure hands with a high foot locked in.  If my hand popped I might fall on my neck/head!  But when I tried it this year, it felt much easier than the throw to the lip.  Maybe I was lucky that my crux hold got wet? So I tried it from the start with the new beta.  
Here's the uncut footage.

With that, I felt finished.  But we still had plenty of time in the day, so we walked down to the Black Boulder.  We have a lot to work on down there, but not much that could be completed in a session.  After spending some time on projects, I decided to brush up something I thought we could do.  The overhanging rock on the southern side of the Black Boulder always looked interesting to me.  But it's about twice as tall as I feel comfortable with, and the top looks like it has loose blocks.  I decided to try and figure out how to get to a large secure looking jug in the middle of the face.  Below it was a perfect hold for a sit down start.  The line of least resistance goes left slightly to get up past the small roof and diagonals right through edges and slopers to grab the jug.  Then you down climb/jump off.

Ashley nabbed the first ascent, and once everything was clean, and the moves were worked out, we decided it was probably a V4.
"Black Ops"

It was a great trip! But it was probably the only one we'll get to Neverland this Summer. It will be too hot from here on out.  We'll see what we can do to get back in the Fall...

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Three Days at City Walls

Kian hunting for boulders at The City Walls.
 I'd waited since October for another try at a great project out at The City Walls. Justin L. introduced me to the line last Fall, and it had been on my mind.  But once we got back out there, I got completely distracted by a bunch of moderates at a place we're calling the Sage Sector.

"Fish in a Barrel" V1
 "Cilantro" V3 SDS
 The Warm Up Block
 Sierra climbing "Sagebrush Sea" V3 SDS.
 The boulder above also has a great V1 called "Sage" SDS and a contrived line called "Greater Sagebrush" V4/5 SDS that off routes the arete on the right and the large flakes out left.

This boulder has a very low starting jug that leads to two problems. "Awkward" SDS goes right at V2, and "Inappropriate" V3 SDS uses slopers on the left side to reach the highest point.

Ashley climbing "Tenacious D" V2 SDS.  "School of Rock" V2 SDS goes up the arete on the left.  And "Tribute" V1 SDS goes up a crack/rail left of the arete that isn't shown in this photo.
 After climbing thirteen new "warm ups" we were too worked to even get on the main project.

After one rest day we went back to The City Walls, and warmed up on this short cube on the east side of the southernmost formation.  We were covered in sunscreen, a steady breeze was blowing, birds were calling, and the air smelled like water from the marsh below.  The atmosphere reminded us all of our trips to Hawaii, so we named this block the Hawaii boulder.

Ashley topping out on "The Hoff" a V3 with a SDS to the right.
 We climbed a few warm ups on the Hawaii Boulder, and had some tries on a harder project.  But pretty quickly we moved on to what I dubbed the "Technicolor Project." Named after the many colorful lichens found on the wall.
 We didn't finish it that day, but we thought it was possible. On our next day out there Kian came out to try it with us. We all gave it strong tries with various sequences.  Eventually Ashley unlocked the crux by adding a high step to our original sequence, and sent the project.  It was cool to watch it happen.
 Here's video of the entire line, so you can watch it happen too.

I had rapped the line hoping that the line could top out straight up.  And it might be possible if one is willing to use micro-crimp flakes above a high and uneven landing. The obvious line of holds leads off to the stance on the left, so that is what we decided to do.  Even without a traditional top out, this is one of the best V6/7 lines in the Lander area.  I'll get back to finish it myself when we get another cool day.

To finish the session we returned to the Hawaii Boulder.  Kian added a SDS to one of our warm ups, which made it a much better problem.

Kian getting the F.A. of "Ancient Hawaiian Saying" V3
And that wraps up the first few sessions of our Summer.  Now that we've finished most of the undone gems at City Walls, and the weather is warming up, it's time to move on to shaded stone in cooler places...

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Nowhere But Cody, and Then No Way Home

Still catching up here on the Lloyd Climbing Blog, and today I'll be recapping our experience over the Memorial Day Weekend.  The forecast called for a lot of rain, and I had a full day of school work to do.  Based on forecasts, I decided that I'd work on Saturday, and we'd climb on Sunday and Monday in Cody, where it was supposed to be drier.  

While I sat working all Saturday, Instagrams kept popping up from the Rock Shop.  It turned out to be a good day up there, despite the rainy forecast, and we had missed it.  But it was too late, we just had to stick with our original plan.  On Sunday morning it was raining steadily in Lander.  Ashley mentioned that she was worried about rock fall in Wind River Canyon after so much rain.  I reassured her that it would be fine.  But when we drove through the canyon, I was dodging some grapefruit sized rocks that were sitting in the road.  It was sketchy enough that at the end of the canyon I gave Ashley a celebratory fist bump.  The rain was still falling when we got to Cody.  So we just spent the afternoon at the Rec. Center, checked into the hotel, and went out for dinner.

But Monday morning was beautiful!  Partly cloudy, 60 degrees, and no wind.  We were in just the right place, at just the right time.
 We climbed a lot of fun problems at the Sphinx Boulders.  Highlights included ascents of "Mini Cave Center" V6 by Ashley and me, and then Ashley climbed "F.G.," a V7 just to the right, using intricate beta.
 We had a pretty full bouldering session, and then it started raining again.  Back in town, we found out that the road through Wind River Canyon had been closed due to landslides!  I looked at a map to figure out how to get home, and realized that we couldn't get home. Not in any reasonable way.  Instead of a three hour drive, getting us home by mid-evening, we'd have to drive to Sheridan, or over the Bighorn mountains to Buffalo then down to Casper, and home from there.  With some snow predicted for that route, we probably couldn't get home that way until the middle of the night.  The only other route was through Yellowstone, at the end of the holiday weekend, which (best case scenario) would also not get us home until after midnight.  So we called our school principals, and made emergency substitute plans for the next school day.  We booked another night at the hotel, and then went out for sushi.  An evening of emergency and extravagance. We decided we'd wait in Cody until noon the next day to see if the road would open.  If not, we'd drive back through Yellowstone.

That left the morning to fill, so we got up early and went bouldering at the Highway Boulders.  We started on the Cornflakes Boulder.

Ashley climbing "With or Without Sugar" V3.
 And that's when it hit me that Cody is one of the most fun bouldering areas I've been to.  Rock like Joe's Valley with the features and angles of Hueco Tanks, just minutes from the car without any bureaucratic hurdles to jump over.  It's perfect!

We climbed a couple convenient V5s  on The Fishhead Boulder including
"Tuna Town."
 And really enjoyed "Barely Hanging On" V3 and "Barely Right" V4.
 We left at 11 o'clock, and the canyon was still closed.  So we drove home through Yellowstone.  It was a long drive, but spectacularly beautiful.  I somehow resisted pulling over for photos all day, but had to pull over for this rainbow about a half hour from home.
That's the full Memorial Day weekend report, and we're almost up to date.

Next time, the first week of Summer Break spent at the City Walls.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Summer's Here! It's Time to Catch Up!

 The end of the school year is a very busy time.  So busy that I'm three posts behind on this blog.  Rather than catch up with one giant post, I'll be posting on one area at a time over the next few days.

The recent theme in Wyoming climbing has been trying to avoid the rain.  Two weeks ago, Sweetwater was supposed to have the lowest probability, so that is where we went.  Jesse came out with us.  And as soon as we got there I hiked with him up the formation to an overhanging wall that I wanted to begin working on.  I rapped in and cleaned a line, and then hiked back to the "Weapons of Mass Destruction" sector to warm up with my family.  Jesse decided to stay up at the wall and keep cleaning lines.

My warm up line turned out to be more difficult than expected, but I figured it out eventually.  It's just to the right of "Technical Difficulties" and I decided to name it "More Difficulties" V4.

While I was doing that, Jesse put up a line called "Cherry Bomb."  Amazing features lead out a steep wall, and the slab at your back makes you climb with your arms bent a little.  In the V2/3 range, it's the perfect warm up for the harder lines that will be put up in the area.
 Like a V8/9 project that goes up the wall in this photo for example.  I hope to finish this line by the end of next fall.
 But I could tell that I wasn't going to finish it last weekend.  So we moved on to another block that Jesse had cleaned, while we were warming up down the hill.  I climbed this line starting from a right crimp, that I'm about to step on in the photo below, and a left hand undercling.

"Skin in the Game" V6
After a little more exploration we went home, and Jesse kept driving to check out some more formations.  I didn't finish every line I had planned, but it was a good day of bouldering.  I have a new project that I'm inspired to do, it was great catching up with Jesse, and it was so nice to get some sun.  We didn't even realize how much more rain was coming...

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Last Week at Sweetwater

It's raining this weekend, statewide, so we won't be getting outside.  But last weekend Mike and Kaiya spent a day with us at Sweetwater.  Mike first got in touch through Instagram, and two days later we were climbing together, telling jokes, and talking about mutual friends.  It was a fun day, and I'm looking forward to getting out with them again.

Mike making a quick ascent of "Norwegian Wood" V6.
Ashley also climbed "Norwegian Wood."  And that's news because she tried it on many occasions over the last few years.  Heat, wind, fatigue, or fear had always gotten in the way.  But last weekend she committed, topped out and had so much fun that she climbed it one more time.

Mike asked about rattlesnakes, and I let him know that there really weren't many rattlesnakes at Sweetwater.  In about thirty trips, I'd only seen one.  Then Matt heard one rattle right beside the warm up wall.  Sometimes it seems like the universe enjoys to proving me wrong.

We were lucky that it warned us, because I never would have seen it.
 For the rest of the day we were paranoid, and kept the dogs leashed. With such cool weather, it's likely that we'll make another trip out there this season, but we'll be careful and leave the dogs at home next time.

Mike made the first ascent of a project out there, and named it "Snake Charmer" V7/8.
Small underclings and sidepulls lead to an easier top out.  I've done all the moves.  But catching a key left hold just the right way from the bottom, and then being able to make a powerful but tenuous move off of it, didn't quite happen for me.

My fingers were tired before we even got to the project up the hill.
Luckily this steep patina slab is more about balance, and powerful high steps, than pulling hard.  Before the session ended, I put together "Sea of Green" V5, and Ashley got the second ascent just before a thunderstorm ended our session.

It's been raining a lot since then.  So I'm stuck inside, catching up on work, making sure that I'll be ready if conditions are climbable next week. Soon Wyoming will be a sea of green, and I'll have a lot of time to enjoy it.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Weather Driven Life

Snow has been falling. The wind has been blowing.  And we've been climbing.  Our goal is to get outside for a great day of bouldering every weekend.  During the last three weekends, the weather made it look like a tough thing to achieve.  Yet that made the nice bouldering conditions that we managed to get even sweeter.  

Yesterday, the plan was to get back to our projects at the Norwegian Wood sector.  But when we hit the top of Beaver Rim the wind was howling from the south.  Rather than drop our plans, and head to the gym, we drove to boulders on the north side of a formation.  The "Weapons of Mass Destruction" sector.  It was quite sheltered, and we had a really nice day out there.  The wind at Sweetwater can wreck your day, but it doesn't need to.  There are so many blocks and big formations out there, it's always possible to get out of the wind.

To start the day, I put up a great V3 called "Technical Difficulties." 
 Ashley put up a V5 called "Falkor" and then a longer variation that tops out six feet to the right called "Fight the Nothing."  "Falkor" is most likely a first ascent, but it had already been brushed up to some degree.  "Fight the Nothing" hadn't been cleaned.

Ashley climbing "Falkor."
 Both of us ended the day by climbing Jesse's line "Weapons of Mass Destruction."
 It's such a great line, I was happy that the wind sent us out there.

Last weekend it was the snow that determined our plans.  The boulders around Lander had been covered in a recent storm, But I'd seen that the storm hadn't been as strong to the north.  So we checked out Torrey Valley.  I was hoping that at least the boulders would be snow free.  Turned out the entire northern side of the valley was dry!  We warmed up on The Croquet Ball.  Then added a V6 low start to "Wild Berry Power" that moves into the pinches from two lower holds.

Then we hiked up to The Balcony.

We climbed "Broken China" V3.  Here's a shot of Kian pressing out the mantle.
 Then Ashley unlocked "Dinner Rain." It's a V7 put up by Davin many years ago.
 I managed to put it together after a few more tries.

Sierra almost sending "Broken China."
 Three weekends back, the wind kept us in Sinks Canyon.  We decided to finish off the lines on the Puzzle Block.  All the up lines had been done, but not the variations.  Ashley got the first ascents of the five variations we could think of by starting on the two starts and traversing into the top outs of each up problem.  The longest, and most difficult, is "Gordian Knot" V6.  It starts left on "Tetris" and traverses right to end on Jason's line.
 That's all the news for now.  We didn't finish as many first ascents as I'd planned, but each day was better than expected.  And I learned that it is possible to find stillness, even in the midst of the chaos called Spring.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

So Many Spring Break First Ascents

This year's Spring Break was a little different.  We stayed in Lander and focused on putting up first ascents.  We also went out with other boulderers, which upped the productivity of the week significantly.  More brushing got done.  And more lines got climbed.  Thirty in total!  I needed to write this post just to make sure I didn't forget any of them.

On Sunday, the wind got to Sweetwater right after we did.  Jason still got the first ascent of the best looking line on The Great Wall of Warmups.  He was able to commit when the rest of us wouldn't.  The wind didn't seem to bother him.  He also added another new line to the left.  
 The theme of the entire break was avoiding the spring wind.  The wind kept us off of the projects we drove out there for.  But on the east side of the ridge we managed to find some climbable blocks mostly out of the wind.  The Scorpion block was one of them.  We climbed "The Scorpion Arete" V1 "Scorpion Stand" V4 "Scorpion Mantle" V3/4, and "The Scorpion Traverse" V3.  We also did a couple unnamed lines on a block just behind it.
 Kian found a sheltered alcove of solid stone reminiscent of Vedauwoo.  Sierra put up one of the first lines there from a sit start and called it "Cookie Pizza" V1.
 Kian put up a really nice line that I didn't get a photo or a name for.  Then he started working on this line.  Ashley sent it and called it "By the Slice" V3.
 Ashley put up a fun V0 in the alcove as well called "Pepper Flakes."

From the Alcove I caught a glimpse of a patina covered block high on the ridge.  I hiked up and was happy to find that it had perfect lines and was sheltered from the wind too.  We got started by climbing "The Downclimb."  Jason got the first ascent. It is a good down climb, but getting up it was harder than expected.  Sidepulls with poor feet allow you to stab for a good edge.  It felt like a V4 move to me.

Jason climbing "The Downclimb" V3/4

Kian got to work on a great looking line on the other side of the boulder.  He cleaned it up, found the sit start, and worked out most of the beta.  Then Kian, Jason and I all made ascents.  It's my favorite line of the day.

"Fade to Black" V3
We stayed around home during the break for three reasons.  The first is that we were recently adopted by a cat named "Piper" who just showed up at our house one day and wouldn't leave.
The second was that all the other climbing areas within an 8 hour drive were going to be too windy for comfortable camping.  And no where looked like it would have nicer climbing conditions than Sinks Canyon.  The third was that I had plenty of undone projects near Lander that I really wanted to try.

On Wednesday we took advantage of a cold front by going to the Beach.  Two boulders way up the hill on the left side of the mini canyon had caught my eye.  The big one and the one above it in the photo below.
 We started on the one above and named it the "Fire and Ice" boulder.  The south face has nice sandstone patina and nine distinct lines on it.  The three on the right are short and about V1.  Most notable are the traverses.  Right to left is "Fire" V4.  Left to Right is "Ice" V4.  "Fire and Ice" V5 is a back and forth linkup of the two traverses.  Of course, being traverses, Ashley got the first ascent of all of them.

She also got the first ascent of the tallest and most difficult straight up line on the block.
"Combustion" V3
 The big block below had a line that suited me better.  Big moves, nice pockets, interesting sidepulls, and a committing top out.  My favorite new problem of the week was
"April Fool" V5.  And that's not a joke.
We also spent two days climbing and cleaning lines on the Falls Trail.  On Monday, Matt, Steph, and Jason met us out there.  We had six pads so we used them all at "Rivtown Takeover" a somewhat tall V4 with a talus landing.

Matt working on the bottom.
 And me figuring out the top.
 Jason unlocked it first, with Matt and I climbing it a little bit later.  It probably is V4 for tall climbers, but seems like a solid V5 for short climbers, with tricky beta too.

Most of our time on the Falls Trail was spent cleaning and climbing The Puzzle Block.  It surprised me how many loose pieces of the puzzle block needed to be pushed from the top. And a couple big loose blocks had to be lifted out of the top right side.  Once the cleaning got started it felt like the best/only option was to finish the job.

Ana climbing "Tavern Puzzle" V2.  Jason did the first ascent of a great V3 just to the right.
 We also did a V2 called "Tooth Pick" to the left, and the line on the east face called "Tetris" V3.

Devlin climbing "Tetris."
 After a difficult start using a key heal hook, one gets to the top of the boulder by squatting onto a slab and a balance move as you stand up to reach to the lip.  It's a classic and memorable V3.  My favorite line on The Puzzle Block.

Uphill from the Puzzle Block is this short block.
 It's home to a lowball, somewhat contrived, heel hook dependent, sandbagged traverse on perfect stone.

"Ashley's King Line" which she calls V4.  I tried really hard, but haven't sent it yet.

I also spent a half day exploring, hiking past the Falls to see what I could find.
 I hiked until I hit winter, and then hiked some more.
I found some great looking blocks, like this one.
 But I never found a large concentration of blocks at one spot.  The glaciers did a good job of spreading the big blocks around.  So I might as well just keep brushing my way up the canyon.  No reason to hike for an hour when there are still new things to be done just ten minutes up the trail.
Thanks to everyone who lent a hand exploring, brushing, and sending with us over Spring Break!  The plan is just to keep on putting up new problems every weekend until summer vacation arrives.