Monday, April 8, 2013

Vertical escape

After a nearly two year hiatus, I think I'm back.

This weekend was a blast. Seeing friends I haven't seen forever coupled with climbing? Phenomenal. I love the New River Gorge.

Kenai and I headed down Friday afternoon, snagged an easy evening around the campfire with friends, and caught up with those I haven't seen in a year +.  The night was cool, but with the promise of increasingly warmer days to follow - the first true spring-like weekend - it was a bearable evening.

The morning began slowly. Re-stoking of the fire, lackadaisical breakfast conversations, planning the day's climbs, the forming of sub-groups. All of this a part of an unspoken process to await the warming of the temperatures and thus the crag - because pulling cold rock just isn't as nice with the promise of sun and warmth.

I headed out with two of my friends I hadn't seen in ages plus another of their friends who quickly became a friend of  mine. We headed to the Meadow. I balled up and drove my car across what appeared to be an extremely sketchy old railroad bridge during the approach. The engineer in the car insisted that if we got out and walked it that I would be more than impressed with its stability. I chose to trust him - because he's never been wrong - despite the fact that stray rocks climbers had carried onto the bridge replaced areas where the ties had decomposed and fell away into the 30-foot streambed.

We arrived at the crag a few minutes after the terrifying bridge - which really wasn't so bad - and hike the 200 or so yards to our first climb. A warm up for all. A 5.10a, Rosetta Stone. Jeremy cruised up it. And then they deemed it my turn.

I haven't climbed since J-Tree. I haven't climbed steadily since junior year of college. The climb was
challenging in areas, but I managed it without any hangs. According to the guys, I "walked up it". I was proud of myself.

Tom and Joe cruised up it as well for their warm up and then we all moved down the wall to the 12a they all planned to project that day, Low Brow.

Tom set up his hammock where I planted myself for the majority of our time at that climb. Kenai proved to be a superior crag dog and went off away from us and dug out a nook in the dirt to settle himself for a few hours. Good boy.

I watched, encouraged, and heckled as the guys projected and eventually sent Low Brow. After Joe had sent it he and I waltzed around the corner so he could put up another 10a for me to climb. (I haven't lead since my second year climbing due to bad experiences with idiots; I hope with steady conditioning to begin leading again this summer.)

This 10a - Hope Pathology - was crimpy as HELL. I didn't have too hard a time with it except for the crux where I got myself into a pickle placing both my hands and my feet opposite of where they needed to be. I was unable to correct it and had to fall/hang to correct myself and shake out. I made a solid go and send after that brief break. I was still satisfied with my progress though considering I've done so little in the past few years.

Joe and a fourth member, Pascal, cleaned up that climb and I headed back over to see what Jeremy and Tom were up to on Low Brow. I watched Tom take a few more burns on it  before the guys decided to move from Low Brow down two climbs to a 12b - Macauley's Irish Stout.

As three of them began to work the 12b, Jeremy put up a 9 beside it for me to climb.

Enter: Liz's nervous frame of mind.

The start of the climb involved a traverse, that if you fell, would send you on a pendulum swing with a good chance of bashing your head into a block on the wall. I took one swing and was fine. Jeremy lowered me to the ground from where I stopped swinging though, forcing me to begin again.

I was 3x more nervous on this second go. My muscles were fatigued and while certainly, my mind was capable of telling my body how to glide through the movements ingrained from former years of climbing experience, I feared my body was too tired to complete the moves.

My forearms were beginning to go. I glanced nervously at Jeremy multiple times, my eyes begging him to tell me it was okay and he'd just lower me. I was too stubborn to quit outright, knowing deep down that I was capable of this, but uncertain I could overcome my fear of letting go and swinging into that block.

Jeremy had nothing but kind encouragement for me. Fueled by his unwavering encouragement and my stubbornness, I made it past those first two bolts of scary climbing. Complete with a near full split as I spanned the two foot holds that took me from scary point of pendulum swinging to point of safety and a no-hands rest. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I made it to that point and stood for a few moments getting my head into a better place.

The rest of the climb went without consequence. A straight-forward lay-back crack to a series of jugs. An easy progression to the top. I was tired, but not overly pumped. I gave Jeremy a huge hug when I reached the ground - I'm really not sure I'd have pushed through without his encouragement.

: : : : :

That evening was another relatively chill one. I was a part of the small group that headed to Pies and Pints for pizza and brews. We shared some great conversation, recaps of our days, and suggestions for podcasts. We returned to camp, some awesome home-brews from a fellow climber, and a raging campfire complete with circle of all our friends and other campers who came over to join in the conversation. Czech Republic, Poland, and France were represented. I had a fun time listening to the accents and conversation that climbing provided to us.

: : : : :

Day two dawned early. I had a lot of driving ahead of me that day. NRG to home and home to Shepherdstown for a week of work-related training. I needed to get an early start to the crag if I wanted to get any climbing in that day. 

I managed to coax - without any arm twisting whatsoever - Jeremy into embarking to Kaymoor with me before the others vacated camp.

We arrived fairly early to a very packed Butcher's Branch of Kaymoor. Fortunately one of the 10s at the start - a 10b - was free and we hopped right on it.

I belayed Jeremy as he led it. His response upon finishing, "Its a little spicy in places." Ah, yes, I remember something like that the last time I climbed it. Ah well, I put on my shoes, tied my figure eight, followed it through and headed on up.

Right away I could tell my body was fatigued from the previous day's climbing. My brain knew what I should do, how I should fluidly progress through the moves. My body? It betrayed my brain every step of the way. 

I moved through the first 3/4 of the climb without too much issue. Sloppy moves in my mind, but nothing too bad. But then I reached the crux. An undercling with high feet. I struggled here years prior. While I knew what to do this go round, my arms couldn't handle my brief mistakes and I had to hang. My forearms were so pumped and exhausted. My legs were beginning to really betray me, too. 

After a long hang, I worked through the undercling move. 

My forearms were so pumped post-crux that I ended up taking multiple hangs after that. The shuts were 2 bolts away. But I just couldn't get there as easily as I should have. My movements got more and more sloppy and desperate. With time though, I made it to the top. Whew.

Jeremy mocked my poor pumped forearms when I came down. Of course. But damn did that burn feel good.

It was the only climb I did that morning. Partly due to crowds, but mostly due to my exhaustion. I watched the guys take a few burns on a short 12a. After both Joe and Jeremy sent it I said my farewells and headed home.

Four good climbs on the weekend. Two 10a's, a 10b, and a 9. Not too shabby at all for a girl who's barely touched rock in two years!

Plans are in place for at least two weekends in May. I think I've found my balance for climbing + riding this year. Bring it on.