Sunday, January 24, 2010

How To Climb With Kids

Kids are wonderful and climbing is wonderful, but they often go together like orange juice and toothpaste. Most climbers who have kids disappear from the climbing world for long periods, emerging only when they are able to find childcare. Ashley and I seem to be part of a very small minority who take their kids out climbing on a frequent basis.

This post isn't about teaching kids to climb. It's about how to take your kids out to the rocks, and still manage to have a good day of climbing yourself. Ashley and I have managed to keep climbing while bringing our kids with us for over six years now.

Here are what I believe are the secrets to our relative success.
1. Routine- We've scheduled a climbing day every weekend of our daughters' lives, so they're used to it.
2. Toys - We put a small backpack together of toys that they only get to use when we go climbing. Sand toys, a bug jar, squirt guns... this keeps them occupied, and they still like the toys because they don't always get to play with them.
3. Many Small Snacks- A yogurt tube can stop an approaching meltdown.
4. Positive Reinforcement- Tell them when they’re hiking or playing well.
5. Bribery- If we know a hike will be hard for the girls, we tell them they will get ice cream at the end of the day if they are good hikers. If they aren't hiking well, we threaten that they won't get ice cream. It feels wrong to make junk food a reward, but it works so well.
6. Plan Modification- We do our best to pick areas, and good weather days that will work for the kids. Sometimes that means revising our workout/rest day schedule, bouldering when we feel like roped climbing, or visiting areas that aren’t at the top of our preference list. For a while, we left home early, and stopped bouldering early so our youngest daughter (2 years old at the time) could sleep while we drove home during her nap time.
7. Two kids are better than one. Either have two kids close enough in age that they can play together, like we did, or invite one of their friends.

I hope these ideas can be of use to those of you who have kids, or will have them soon. Though the kids might not always be excited to go out climbing, I think it's great to get them outdoors and for them to know that grown-ups get to have fun too.

I wrote the kids and climbing post thinking that I wouldn't get to climb outside this weekend. But the weather looked nice this morning, and we decided to try despite the cloudy and cold forecast. It was a little cold, but the sun was out all day, and we had a great time working on "Hardware." I'm blaming my failure to get the redpoint on numb fingers.

Steve climbing "Mo"

Sierra's photo of me on "Hardware."

Ashley and I both got clean toprope ascents though, and hope to return soon for redpoint efforts. The session was a wonderful surprise. Sometimes it's good when internet forecasts are wrong.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Traversing Torrey Valley

Ashley powering up for the traverse.

We had another nice session at Torrey Valley this weekend. We warmed up on a tiny boulder behind the traverse block which was surprising good considering its size. Conditions weren't quite as warm as last session, but that gave us good friction through the crux of the traverse we started working last weekend. We both sent it after a few attempts, and then did a short moderate lip traverse going right from our starting hold.
Ashley climbing the short moderate traverse.

Then we did the short traverse backwards, which was somewhat more difficult. The obvious problem became adding this to the original traverse we had finished, but we were too worked to give it a good attempt.

With our workout finished early in the day, I spent the rest of the afternoon traversing the valley in another way, looking at all the boulders Davin told me about. The Beck Boulders were surrounded by snow, and through the snow went a trail of large mountain lion paw prints. A little spooked, I left that area and looked at rock near the Glacier Trail trailhead on the other end of the valley.

Today was a rest day, but the weather was nice and I felt like hiking. Off the Popo Agie Falls trail I found an uncleaned boulder that has potential.

Cleaning it and the landing will take work, but it's a short hike so I'll do it sometime. I found most of the boulders recently described on Davin's blog, and then hiked out of the canyon to check out a place I had spied while driving down the loop road switchbacks a couple months ago. Here's a piece of the area that has potential for a good concentration of problems. Many other boulders are spread out on gentle hillsides surrounding this spot.

The sector is a bit of a hike, some of it uphill and off trail. I'd need to develop it before taking Ashley and the girls up there. Maybe I'll find someone in the Lander area that wants to work on it with me this summer.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Warm Weather in Torrey Valley

Yesterday we got out for our first session of 2010. The forecast for Lander was cold, but Dubois was supposed to have much warmer weather. Davin introduced me to Torrey Valley on Labor Day, and said that the north slope boulders were good in winter. It still seemed like a risk driving over an hour north and to a higher elevation to get warmer temperatures. I also worried that the gravel road might be snowed in. But the farther we drove the less snow there was, and when we got out of the car I was pleasantly surprised at the warm temps. We still wore out all our winter clothes in case a wind picked up.

Sierra wore her new pad for a couple hundred feet, but then she asked me to carry it.

The boulders were even warmer than the parking lot. I swear the air temps had to be 60-65 degrees, and there wasn't any wind all day. I couldn't believe how perfect it was.
Ashley warming up on the Croquet Ball.

Ashley climbing a good sit-start line on the Croquet Ball.

The Torrey Valley scenery is spectacular.

We did a couple fun slab lines on the Coco Cabana, just up the hill.

One of the lines.

Then got shutdown on this short problem just behind the slab.

Our favorite problem of the day was this very good traverse.
Ashley working the crux of it.

Rushed by the coming sunset, we didn't take good rests between attempts. We didn't finish it, so we'll need to return.

If only the winter days could be longer.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Hueco Update

As soon as we got our official school year schedule last August, I called Texas State Parks to get North Mountain Reservations for our Winter Break at Hueco Tanks. But I couldn't get reservations. North Mountain was already full. I called a few more times to see if there had been cancelations, but eventually I gave up trying.

Then winter hit us in October, and it hit me that we could still get into Hueco by reserving commercial tours through the Hueco Rock Ranch. I called and reserved three days of tours for myself and Ashley by depositing $75.00 which is half of the total tour price for three days. We had enough airline points earned up for two free tickets. So we decided to fly this year from Colorado Springs to El Paso. Ashley's parents agreed to watch the girls.

We wanted to make sure we had at least one good pad, but didn't want to pay any crazy baggage fees, so we ordered a custom AirPad from Organic. It's slightly smaller than the standard pad, and is just small enough not to be considered oversized baggage.

We asked Josh for colors that our daughters would like. When we aren't flying somewhere, it will be their bouldering and hangout pad. The girls are very happy with it. Josh does good work.

With the crazy holiday flight delays this year, it took us nine hours to get to El Paso by air. It would have been easier to drive. Lesson learned.

I woke up early on our first day. Psyched to soon be climbing at Hueco.

Early sunrise from the west side of the Franklin Mountains.

Once again, we stayed at the Casa de Suenos. They won us over last year.

The breakfasts alone are worth the drive.

Not to mention the quiet environment, nice bed, and warm showers before heading out into the frosty desert.

We got to the Rock Ranch at 9:40 and waited for 40 minutes for the other climbers on our tour to gather. I must admit that my motivation level, and my career as a public school teacher, where everything is planned down to the minute, made the waiting pretty uncomfortable for me. I have trouble waiting for friends, much less complete strangers. The other climbers on the board never did show up, so Ashley and I were the only climbers on the tour. We followed our guide Neil to the gate, and then the really painful waiting began.

This waiting we didn't expect. We were under the impression that if you reserved a commercial tour you were let straight in. This isn't the case on the busiest days. We had to wait our turn with everyone else who didn't have a North Mountain reservation. First come first serve. Here's what I know about the situation in bullet form.

-Texas State Park Pass holders can make North Mountain Reservations with no money down. They can make more reservations than they plan to use. If they don't show up, they lose nothing. No wonder we couldn't get reservations last August.

-The park is now letting people take reservation spots at ten in the morning, instead of noon, when people who have made reservations don't show up. This is a good thing, and probably is in response to the large numbers of reservation no shows caused by the policy described above.

-The line waiting at the gate begins to get into the park at ten. They fill up the office, and the parking. The office radios out to hold everyone at the gate. Cars are let in individually as the front office processes the climbers in line.

-Tours leave the Rock Ranch at ten. Guides and even most climbers at the Rock Ranch seem reluctant to try getting a tour out before ten.

-So tours arrive at the gate at 10:15 and have to wait in line.

We didn't get into the park until 11:15. That's the situation during the college winter break. The waits will be shorter when the park isn't so busy.

Neil is a good guide. He did his best to get us everywhere we wanted to go. Though he did seem to enjoy sandbagging us on "The Hourglass." Possibly the the trickiest, though not most difficult, V3 in the park.

We worked on "Uncut Yogi." I climbed "That Hi-Pro Glow" on my second attempt, and then we both did "Animal Acts." Known as "the Slashface of V5."
Ashley climbing "Animal Acts."

We ended the day by working on "Ultramega." On the hike out we saw a tour group admiring the real "Slashface" at sunset.

We learned that snow was predicted, so we moved our reservation forward and climbed two days in a row. Steven was our friendly mathematician and guide for the second day. We went back to "Uncut Yogi" and this time I was able to make the heel stick, and I climbed it.

A strong and entertaining climber named Frank made a very quick ascent in his scarf and Abercrombie.

The next stop on the tour was the East Spur Maze. We repeated some problems there, and I spent some more time on "Slim Pickins."

Once again I couldn't get my feet to stick. Maybe someday I'll learn the beta on this line.

Frank working "Better Eat Your Wheaties."

And we ended the day at the Sausage Factory. A great area that I hadn't visited before.

That night I had a bad case of what I've named "Hueco Fever." Waking up sore and feverish as my body burned energy trying to recover from the physical stress of two consecutive days of Hueco bouldering. I couldn't get a good night's sleep.

We rested and did school work for the next two days as it snowed and then cleared up. Then it was time to end the year in the park.

The Rock Ranch was prepared for the party on New Year's Eve.

We went back out with Neil with a full tour group that Thursday. We got on "Ultramega" early in the session, and both of us managed to send it. I think our training on Lander's dolomite helped us climb the pocketed line. We also climbed in the Dark Heart where Ashley almost did "Something Different," and we finished the day by climbing "Moonshine Roof." A great day, but the pictures didn't turn out.

So to wrap up, We got full climbing sessions for three days of the trip, just as we had planned. We got to the problems that we wanted to climb, though that seemed tenuous at times. It would have been nice to get in earlier, so we could have spent more time simply appreciating the beauty of Hueco. But it still was a great trip. We'll just try to get our reservations a full 11 months in advance next time.

As annoying as all the regulatory hoops, travel, and waits can be, Hueco is worth it.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Exhausted from the break.

Teaching is hard work, but I'm always the most tired at the end of vacations. We had a great break, which included a week at Hueco. I've got a lot of photos, things to write about the trip, and an access update to share, but I'm too tired to write and upload it all tonight. The plan is to finish it before the weekend. Happy New Year!