Canada Day Weekend Climbaganzapalooza

Canada Day long weekend again, and this year I spent it again with a bunch of people at David’s cottage on Lac Sam, some of us climbers, some not. David’s Canada Day party is a long standing tradition among his friends and he busts his butt to organize it each year. Some of his friends swim and hang out and play board games; lately, since we’ve opened up climbing areas on the lake, a group of us come with all our climbing gear too.

The lake from the top of Upper Cliff: this is definitely the most beautiful place to climb around Ottawa.

The lake from the top of Upper Cliff: this is definitely the most beautiful place to climb around Ottawa.

Over the four days, I hit every area: 5.SuperFunWall, Lower Cliff, Jumping Rock, and Upper Cliff.

5.SuperFunWall is back in there somewhere!

5.SuperFunWall is back in there somewhere!

5.SuperFunWall has two bolted sport routes on it now, thanks to David’s efforts. You have to canoe a fairly long way to get to it, but when you reach it, pull up a canoe at the shoreline, step out, drop your pack and you’re at the base. Most of the climbs are pretty moderate, and the 5.9ish bolted line on the left is pretty cool, finishing with some burly and ballsy stuff for the grade, particularly the fine thin edges at the top, just before you’re completely done with getting over a bouldery roof. We did that on Friday, though I got there late with Jex, and as we got there, the others were already heading to Jumping Rock. So we missed out on Jumping Rock that day, but we did get to climb for a while at SuperFunWall, and have the occasional boater come past, spot us, then inch curiously up toward the shoreline to try and figure out what we were doing. “Oh!” a couple of older guys in a dinghy said, “They’re rope climbing. . .” (From halfway up one route - Gneiss & Grandy, I think – I invited them to join us. They declined.)

But then there was Sunday, when four of us – David, Jex, Noah and I – paddled over to Lower Cliff. Unfortunately, we found ourselves over there one harness short. D’oh! Never fear, David’s always ready to go (potentially painfully) old school:

Yes, that is, in fact, a harness constructed out of slings and carabiners.

Yes, that is, in fact, a harness constructed out of slings and carabiners.

Would you like a closer look at this feat of MacGyvering? Okay!

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Admittedly, this harness was only used for top rope belaying – no climbing, no leading. We had to trade around harnesses a bit to accommodate for that. But, still, it worked.

I think for me the best part of the day was sending Slab O’ Doom, a 5.10a route on the big slabby face (I don’t think I’ve climbed it clean before, and certainly never with as much aplomb: Noah, who was belaying me, said, “You just sailed through that!” when I came down) and getting tapped to pink-point Dave, Dave, Dave of the Jungle, which is the oldest climb at the crag, and which I’ve led before, but not recently.

(It occurs to me, since we were climbing with Noah, who’s sixteen, that it’s likely some younger people might not actually get why we called it Dave, Dave, Dave of the Jungle. And that makes me feel a wee bit old.)

Anyway, David had left his gear in when he put a top rope up on the slab climbs, so someone had to go up and lead Dave, Dave on his gear, and that someone turned out to be me. I was glad of it, too: I haven’t been leading nearly enough lately, and this was a good lead. I remembered again that when I’m actually on lead, things get so much more focused, and I don’t actually feel scared. Instead, I just feel sort of hyper-sharp and aware of my own thought processes.

There were butterflies everywhere, and they weren't afraid to land. This one didn't even take off when Noah started taking up rope.

There were butterflies everywhere, and they weren’t afraid to land. This one didn’t even take off when Noah started taking up rope.

After we finished up at Lower Cliff, Jex and David went back to the cottage, but Noah and I grabbed the spare canoe and headed to Jumping Rock. He’d been there the day before, and had his sights set on sending the main line up the boulder, a steeply overhanging problem that starts out relatively easy, and then gets progressively harder and harder.

So we paddled up, got the shoes on, and jumped into the water below the rock. I had brought along my waterproof camera for just this purpose.

Jumping Rock. 30 feet of awesome. (Noah's project was the semi-obvious right-slanting crack which vanishes and rounds out at the top.)

Jumping Rock. 30 feet of awesome. (Noah’s project was the semi-obvious right-slanting crack that starts at bottom middle and vanishes and rounds out at the top.)

Jumping Rock has a fairly accessible lower rail – that lighter bit you can see down by the waterline – and it seems like its usual pattern is that it starts out relatively easy and just keeps getting harder as it goes up. I can, on a good day, haul myself up to where my feet are on the rail. After that I slip off.

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The heel hook while I got it together for the left-hand-up move. Which stuck for like, oh, maybe two seconds. Then – SPLOOSH.

Noah, though, is another matter.

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That’s him on top of the leftmost problem, which no one’s really graded. Last person to estimate a grade for it called it a V7: Noah says no, but maybe there’s a harder variant at the top.

He went back for a couple of runs at his project, too.

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... aaaand he hits the water.

… aaaand he hits the water.

We paddled back tired and happy about it.

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Day Three: Noah’s parents and sister headed back to Ottawa (we’ve been climbing with Noah and his mother Chantalle for a while now: his father and sister were also invited along to the cottage this year, though they don’t climb. But Noah had decided he wanted to stick around the cottage and keep climbing. David wanted to spend some time with his non-climbing friends, and Jex had to go back to work. So. . . it was just Noah and me, heading off in David’s car to Upper Cliff.

The slightly odd thing about climbing with Noah is that while he’s vastly stronger than me (he’s on a competitive team) I have more outdoor experience, so I’m still kinda the leader when we’re out there. Plus, at Lac Sam, I know the cliff a lot better, and it is really hard to find the anchors if you don’t know where you’re going. Though, when you do find them, it’s a great crag.

Noah chilling out above the anchor for Pink Floyd Wall.

Noah chilling out above the anchor for Pink Floyd Wall.

We spent the afternoon rappelling in to various climbs, then I’d climb back out and bring Noah up from the top. Then we’d move to the next anchor and repeat. I had a whole lot of fun on Tits ‘n’ Ass, which has been bolted, but which I didn’t lead this time: thought about it, but that opening crux kicked my butt too much, sadly. The second, though – the signature part of the climb – went better than usual. It’s an awkward wriggle, arms first, through a pinch at a pair of roofs. Like half a funnel: you have to climb up through the narrow bit into a widening dihedral, with very few handholds and your feet a little loose below you. Noah, somehow, got into it back first, so that when he made it through the pinch, he could actually just lean back in the dihedral like he was in a lawn chair, and look around. (It’s hard to describe, and I wished I’d had a camera – and a free hand.)

In between climbs, we chilled out at the top and took in the view.

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And we wrapped the day up at Pink Floyd Wall, which Noah hadn’t been to before, climbing Shine on You Crazy Diamond (big overhang at the start full of sketchy crap friable rock, but fun, followed by a bit of slab and a nice twisty finger crack to the top) and Welcome to the Machine (big move to get onto the boulder at the bottom, followed by some ho hum, and then a lovely, hard, thin, three-move face, which I fell only once on. When Noah scrambled to the top of it, he said, “I don’t know you you did that face, but what I did was . . . weird. . .”

By then we were dirty and tired and sun-stunned, and the lake looked good enough to try jumping into from where we were (300m up). So we hiked back to the car and got ourselves back to the lake, and dinner.

And then the last day the weather was a little iffy. Unsettled. But that meant it was time to go back over to Jumping Rock (from which we could flee quickly if the weather people’s predicted thunderstorms started to loom) and see if Noah could send his project. David came along, and our non-climber friend Ian came too, to scramble around on the rocks and jump off.

I messed around too, but at this point I was getting a bit tired, I think. But, after Noah taped up his fingers, then somehow managed to swim to the start without getting his hands wet, he took a run at the project. He peeled off the first time where it starts to taper off and get vertical, took a break while the rest of us noodled around on the rock, and then I went to get the camera so I could catch it on video, and he made another attempt.

As you can see in the video, it was raining at the start, and the wind was really picking up. It started getting ominously dark just after this, and we piled into the canoes and raced home as fast as our arms could take us, particularly when we heard some thunder rumbling in the distance. But, we all made it back in time to get up to the cottage and be safely dry, with beer in hand, before the heavens opened up.

And then we had dinner, did some cleaning up, jumped in the lake one last time, and as night fell the last of us headed back toward the city.

And that was Climbaganzapalooza 2014.

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Lawks!

. . . said Merry, looking in. The stone floor was swimming. ‘You ought to mop all that up before you get anything to eat, Peregrin,’ he said.

- The Fellowship of the Ring

Sorry. I just can’t think about the flood at Coyote last night without that quote in my head. Yes, I am a huge geek.

10494990_10152109553856073_7296066830404982188_oI was bouldering on my own last night. And it was pouring rain outside, one of those full-on Southern Ontario downpours. I’d stopped on the way in to watch as one of the drains, which had reversed itself with the levels of rain, turned itself into a mini-fountain, burbling back up in the middle of Lake Coyote (formerly the parking lot). Going outside in this, for even a few seconds, was resigning yourself to feeling as though you’d jumped fully clothed into a lake.

And then as I took a break from bouldering to go to the water fountain, I suddenly saw an advancing edge of water streaming across the concrete floor from the new section. And then I realized that the new section was a couple of inches deep in water. A blocked drain? I don’t know. As I watched, the edge of the water went racing into the women’s locker room, and I ran in to pull people’s shoes and bags off the floor before it got there.

And it just kept moving, spreading down the lane to the base of the stairs, getting deeper and deeper. By now the staff and a few members had started racing around, ripping up foam backing from whatever they could find, shoving rolled-up gym mats and bits of carpet into the doorway to try and dam up the new section. One of the guys on staff climbed, repeatedly, to the top of the boulder to grab sheets of foam from beneath the flooring and throw them down, then start over. I offered to help but they said there wasn’t much I could do.

By the time I’d texted my friends to let them know what was going on (and that maybe they shouldn’t join me), and decided my rock shoes were too wet to really keep bouldering, the new room was mostly dammed up and they were trying to sluice it out into the (also flooded) parking lot.

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Here’s sending good thoughts to Coyote for the quick and uneventful drying out of the new area! Wish I could have been any help. Very late that night (midnight-ish?) they posted this picture of the aftermath on Twitter: with the note that the new area would be closed for a while.

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My poor Coyote.

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Flying at Eastern Block

“I’m trying to work out whether I’m not okay with it, or if I just think I’m not okay with it.”

I must have said that a couple of times as I got ready to go up and take down the anchor on a dead easy climb at Eastern Block yesterday. David and I had wanted to work on Coda (5.10a), a slabby, very delicate climb that was unfortunately trickling with water, so way too wet for David to lead, though he tried.

To get the top rope up, he’d gone up the easy route next to it, placed a quickdraw on its anchor, then traversed over to the top of Coda and put another anchor up. But when he had made the sketchy, wet, treacherous traverse once, he really didn’t want to go back to take down the first anchor, and then make the trip a third time to lower off the second. So, we decided I’d go up the easy route, take the quickdraw off (leaving me with a rather large amount of rope out from the anchor on Coda) and then downclimb a couple of moves to see if I could traverse closer to Coda before dropping onto the rope and swinging leftward across the face to hang off Coda‘s anchor.

I thought I was okay with it. Mostly because, from below, I was looking at it and thinking, “it’s a clean face, there aren’t any big blocks or ribs for me to hit, and I can get down a bit from the first anchor before I jump, and it’ll be a bit of a fall, but really more of a swing. And I need to work on falling anyway.”

We’d been climbing all day, and I’d only led once – everything else felt out of my range. But, also, I’m held back by my fear of falling. It means I don’t often lead at my limit. Not that I feel like I should be falling my way up leads – I still feel like the trad ethic of “your gear is a backup for your climbing” is a good one. But falls happen, and I need to be able to climb through a tough patch without fear of falling freezing me up and sapping my strength. We’d been climbing alongside a foursome who were a great example for me of people climbing at their lead limit – their lead limit being about mine, I think – and taking some falls. And I’ve backed off a couple of leads lately because of head issues. So I volunteered for this.

I was fine until I got to the final move, where you have to step out wide on a smallish ledge, then reach up to the anchor. And I looked over at the anchor on Coda, which was a couple of feet below me and several feet – ten, twelve maybe? – off to my left. Eep, I thought.

It took some psyching up before I finally made the move to go up and get the quickdraw, leaving me on the Coda anchor, and then downclimb a couple of moves so I was at least below the second anchor. I didn’t want to slip and fall – which would have probably bounced and keelhauled me along the wall until I came to a stop somewhere halfway up Coda – I wanted to be in control of when I jumped so I could be prepared.

Most of the psyching up was about telling myself it wasn’t free fall, it was just dropping onto the rope. I’ve swung longer distances when lowering, if there was a redirect in the line or something, and I’ve bounced and jumped and run along the wall and goofed around on rappel without worries. I told myself there was nothing for me to hit on the way, and it was as clean a fall as you could get. But David did check with me if I was okay, remind me that he could do it if I wasn’t okay with it, try to remind me I didn’t have to. That was the second time I said I was trying to work out if I was actually not okay with it, for good reason, or just being nervous.

Then I stepped up, balancing on one foot, took the quickdraw out, backed down to a foot ledge, looked over at the Coda anchor to make sure I was below it now instead of a couple of feet above, moved down a couple more inches until I couldn’t go lower without David running out even more rope, checked that he had me tight, and jumped off.

The swing across was only a little less controlled than I wanted. I got my legs out to ward off the wall as I came into it, and then it was all over and I was hanging in my harness and David was lowering me. Apparently I sent him for a swing, too, when my weight came onto the rope: oops. But we were both ready for the jump and I was really pleased with it: because it represented me talking myself out of a foolish caution (“I don’t wanna fall, falling is scary,”) and into a wiser caution (“I don’t want to take an unprepared fall with that much swing, so here’s where I downclimb carefully, so I’m not above the anchor, and jump deliberately.”)

And yes, the climbing the rest of the day was great – hard but good and just about at my level. I did one bit of tricky, sketchy, balancey face climbing with tiny ledges that I was really psyched to have sent. I got a lead in that was good for me, and when we had the top rope set up on Coda, I struggled on it and pulled off some moves that felt really cool (and very, very hard – this is the first Gatineau 5.10 I’ve even tried, I think) and made it to the top with only a duck or two over to the easier ground to the right of the climb when I couldn’t get through a slippery move and knew I needed to get to the top to clear the anchor. The point being, I fought my way to the top, and made some moves I would have disbelieved if I wasn’t the one doing them.

But the bit I’m most proud of myself for is jumping off that route and onto the rope.

 

 

Oh, yeah. It almost never fails: a given climbing day will find one song running through my head as I climb. (Once, a couple of months ago, it was “X$PENS!V $H!T” by Die Antwoord; once it was “Keelhauled” by Alestorm; once it was the Marseillaise.) This time the song leapt into my mind just as I got above the third bolt on my warmup lead. Most of the way up, my head was silent, but then I got to the first actual move of the day, a step out wide to a small ledge, and then it came crashing in as I stepped out onto the edge, and stayed there for the rest of the day. I don’t even know why.

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Showboat

Mostly, when I’m watching pro climbers on YouTube, they’re climbing seriously hard shit at the top of their grade because that’s why the video’s being made. Here, Sharma’s goofing around on a practice run. Stopping to talk halfway up. Popping dynos way up on the roof over a drop of – what – forty feet? – to the water below, and swinging around on them. It’s fun to watch (although a little nervewracking, because I can’t help but imagine the drop to the water).

But does that wall ever look like fun. Artificial DWS. How cool is that?

Oh, and the eventual comp climb?

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Sink the pink

A friend just linked me to this page, and its “Ode to a Pink Tricam,” which I here reprint for your reading pleasure. It’s nice to know other climbers share my crew’s abiding love for the 0.5.

Ode to a Pink Tricam

Oh Pink’s the one I love to place
when I’m alone way up in space
on some exposed and airy face.

They sink where other gear won’t go.
When all you’ve got is manky pro,
This tricam saves your butt from woe.

But it’s often hard to get them out;
They make your second moan and shout
And wave his nut tool ’round about

But that’s why you’re the one on lead
Your problems are a different breed
As long as someone does the deed…

“Oh quit your whimpering,” you rumble,
“And get it out or there’ll be trouble”
“Get to work now, on the double!”

Although it sometimes takes a while,
They do come out with vim and guile,
(Or chiselling and curses vile.)

Pink will do what all the rest
Won’t do when they’re put to the test.
Oh pink tricams are just the best!

– Charles “Pinky” Danforth

 

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Development day

The first day of this past long weekend was a development day, knowing it was going to be too wet after a day or two of rain to climb anything. So David and I went to Lac Sam to clean up and re-mark the trail, scout some new lines, and bolt a route (we had a list of three that were likely: not leadable on trad gear but good climbs.)

DSCF3606The trail was the easy part: we just walked it, clearing off loose branches and breaking away dead limbs, and re-tying the marker ribbons where they were missing or the trees had been blown down. Really, after a couple of years of coming out here the trail’s starting to get easier to follow and clean, though it’s muddy at this time of year.

And the black flies have come out.  Canada, you know I love you but your goddamn black flies have got to go.

And every time I get up to the edge of the upper cliff, it gives me butterflies. It’s the drop. You don’t walk to the top of many crags around here: generally you hike to the base. Coming out of the woods and looking out over the lake: that’s a stomach-lurcher every time.

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David rappeling down Tits ‘n’ Ass.

We rappelled down and then walked along the base looking for a likely new line for me to scrub while David bolted. We decided on a slabby section near the descent gully on the east side of the explored cliff. (I meant to get pictures of the lines and kept forgetting all afternoon.)

There was a lot of scrambling up and down the steep descent gully before we figured out where to put the anchors and I could get on rappel and head down with a crowbar and wire brush to clean it up and check it out.

Did I mention the blackflies were out? When the wind came up there was a little respite but mostly it was unbelievable: black clouds of them around both of us. David finally got out his mesh shirt to fend them off. I just tried very hard to ignore them buzzing, landing, getting caught in my hair, flying into my eyes and mouth…

DSCF3626Meanwhile, David went back to bolt Tits ‘n’ Ass (the route we decided to do first). We haven’t been able to test how it climbs, because it was soaking (the water drips off the twin roofs that form the crux and it’s often wet later than other sections of the face), but it’s a sport climb now!

And I got my rappel rope slung up in saddlebags so it would be out of the way of any falling rocks, scrubbed lichen off a short face that looks more or less easy but possibly kind of cute (I was calling it Short Stuff in my head), and cleared off some of the loose rock. The rocks, pried loose, tumbled down the crag and just kept going. I listened to one falling for what might have been twenty seconds or more before it got too quiet to track, or maybe stopped. It gives you extra respect for falling rock, and I know I’m always way more alert at Lac Sam than I would be at a place like Montagne d’Argent, that’s heavily climbed and generally pretty clean.

And I went back up the gully and started down another stretch near it, a slabby rib that looked promising, off the same anchor, although it was a messy rappel through some bracken to get to the rock and I was starting to go mad with the black flies. Eventually we figured we were tired enough, and the black flies were crazymaking enough, that we should call it a day, with two new routes scouted and one bolted. Not bad for a day’s work.

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The Weir

On Sunday we’d been planning for a fairly ho-hum day at Western Cwm, but then the more-or-less-newbie climbers who’d wanted to come out bailed. So I got to David’s and it was just him and me. “So. . . up for some multipitching at the Weir?” he asked me.

Didn’t have to ask twice. Hell, yeah. I’ve been wanting to get to the Weir for a year or so, but really it’s only practical when there are only two of you, because it’s multipitch and because there are only a few routes (that we know of) that are in the range of most of our crew. So I’d never been, but I’d heard about it. With good reason. It’s just about the biggest thing within two hours’ drive from Ottawa. I gather most of it is hard, overhanging sport. This kind of thing you just don’t see in our area.

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To give you a sense of the scale of this thing, look for the climber, and then remember the foreshortening effect that makes the upper part of the cliff look shorter.

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The big prominent diagonal line is Black and White, a huge trad route which gives its name to this sector: and this is only about a third of the whole cliff. It’s imposing, and intimidating: that whitish midsection overhangs by about 10 degrees the whole way up.

DSCF3642From the crag, you look out across rolling Laurentian hills, a racing little waterfall, and a field of massive satellite dishes, which give the whole view a sort of surreal, science-fictiony feel. There was a group of climbers working on a first pitch sport climb near the base of Black and White: we made our way past them and up to our line, Club Sandwich, which follows (more or less) the top of the jagged overlap of dark rock at the right of the cliff in the top picture.

David had been up a route called Adagio before, a four-pitch wandering trad climb with a lot of traversing, which he said was a gorgeous climb. He figured Club Sandwich, in the same grade range, might be like it.

As it turned out, it wasn’t. We found the line easily enough – it was obvious – and found that it started from a cave/notch about 7 or 8 feet high, which was sketchy to start on. From there it got worse, through a strenuous wet section of blocky offwidth. David fought his way up it, and I followed – though I admit to aiding off the first two pieces to get through the opening. 5.7 my butt. The belay ledge was huge – four feet wide or more – and we caught our breath at the anchor before David headed up for the second pitch.

DSCF3649Which turned out to be even sketchier, with a long runout section across a ramp next to a crack too big to get any normal-sized gear in. David fought through it, but it was spooky. There were a couple of times I just held my breath, belaying him. Finally he made it to the second anchor. The next pitch was supposed to be 5.0 or 5.1 – super easy – but after the crazy gear of the last two pitches, I wasn’t so sure what to expect.

Turned out I shouldn’t have worried. It was actually an amusingly easy walk along a wide ledge, with a couple of bolts placed, and a spot or two where you could put some gear in. There was one move that was a little more than just walking, and that was a step sideways, with a couple of handholds, across a sheer face to a foothold. I’ve done worse without a rope, specifically a step sideways on the way down to Fulmar Wall at Miekle Partans in Aberdeenshire. That I did with a pack on. This was protected, and easier.

DSCF3653So, when we got to the end of the third pitch and realized that the start of the fourth was wet, and we had no idea what was up there, and the first two pitches had been so brutal, David decided to back off (and I fully supported his decision), and I took the rack and led back to the anchor for the second pitch, and we rappelled down. (I’d been feeling silly for backing out on the lead for pitch three: leading back made up for that a little tiny bit.)

So, we had to bail off the route. But the rappel down was great – a long, clean drop away from overhanging rock, down through the air: it actually made me laugh in delight.

We decided it was too late to go after Adagio, so we dropped a top rope on a burly offwidth on a short wall at the top end of the crag, and messed around on that for a while, then packed up. On the way back we stopped to take a look at Adagio, and I fell for it. I want to go back and give it a run – particularly I want to lead the first pitch, which looks straightforward and gorgeous. The rock, especially with the late afternoon sun hitting it, was stunning.

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The route runs up the obvious crack at the left, then steps right at the mini roof. From there it traverses across a couple of corners to a belay below the roof near the middle of the upper half of the picture. Then it moves along underneath the roof to the corner at the far right (behind the tree branches) and then straight up the nose above that. It looks amazing, and the rock is beautiful, golden-peachy and streaked.

But, with no time to do it that day, we had to pack up and head out. Putting Adagio on the hit list though: I want to go back for that climb. Maybe not till fall, though – the Weir is south-facing and in a week or three it’ll be a griddle at midday.

So, I finally made it to the Weir. And I think I’m in love.

 

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The Weir, Laurentians

I lucked out and got this shot at the Weir (Laurentians, Quebec) on Saturday.

I lucked out and got this shot at the Weir (Laurentians, Quebec) on Sunday.

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Why do I do that?

I have this thing where I fail to flash a climb that I really, really ought to be able to make, on the last move, because I do something just dirt stupid. Last night Jex pointed me at a 5.10 that she thought I should try: crimpy, sustained, but not too bad. I slipped at the start, then pulled my focus together. “I think you’ll get up it,” Jex said. “Maybe not clean, but you’ll get up it.”

So I started climbing, and as I hit halfway up without a fall, I started thinking, I might actually make this. I’ve been down a few grades, so flashing a 5.10 would be a nice ego boost. I was literally two moves from the finish when I paused. I was on the corner, with a positive but smallish sidepull handle for my right hand and a rounded sloper around the corner for the right, and my feet on small slanted ledges. There was a big ledge (it had made a good handhold) somewhere around midthigh on the left side, and I needed to make a fairly long reach up to a sideways edge on the corner. After that, it was an easy reach to the last hold.

The obvious move was to turn my right side in, step up with the right foot to the edge, and press up with the right leg, and the left sidepull, while I went up with the right hand. It was glaringly obvious. And yet for some reason, I had a brain fart, deciding that move was too big, and I should, instead, throw for the right-hand vertical edge that was the last hold before the finish.

Because I’m an idiot.

And I fell. One move from the end. Then I got back on, did the move like I’d actually known I was supposed to, and finished the climb.

But I’ve noticed that’s a common thing with me: when I’m close to flashing a climb that’s at the upper end of my range, I will do just fine until about a move before the end. At which point my brain will fail me and I’ll do something utterly derpy, like try to throw for a high, vertical edge off small feet when I really don’t have to.

How to guard against this? I don’t know. Remember to tell myself, a move from the end, not to suddenly obey the Voice of Binky and throw my brain out the window?

Sigh.

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Things that are great about the Red

1. Miguel’s Pizza and Climb Shop. 

front-of-miguel-sI didn’t get the Miguel’s thing until I was there. This place is like a biker bar for climbers. The bright yellow, tiny store started life as an ice cream stand, and houses fantastic pizza, climbing gear, guidebooks, and local goodies. And the iconic Miguel’s T-shirts and hoodies, which people all over the world buy, then wear, knowing that sooner or later another climber will see them and know they’ve climbed at the Red.

There’s also a climbers-only campground attached to Miguel’s: although we stayed at the Land of the Arches campground, also a climber-specific spot, but more of a lights-out-at-11 place. Miguel’s is more of a party (we were there on Easter weekend and a guy from Yosemite was organizing an “Easter beer hunt.”

You pull up to Miguel’s after a day of climbing, and go inside to get a slip of paper. On the paper you have the option to tick off whether you want 2, 4, or 8 slices of pizza; whether you want less, regular, or extra cheese and sauce; and what toppings you want, off a mindboggling list of about 40 different things, which includes stuff like chorizo sausage (get that if you know what’s good for you), artichokes, spiral pasta, black beans, fresh basil, pineapple, black beans, tofu, you name it. You pay a flat rate for 2, 4, 6, etc., toppings. (Go inside and check the chalkboard for anything they might be out of that day.)

3_miguels_pizza_ladenGo inside anyway, because inside the walls are festooned with climbing gear and T-shirts. Need chalk, a new guidebook, a pair of shoes, a new rope, a spare cam? You can get it.

Or, you can hand them your slip of paper, buy an Ale-8 (of which more later), and then go back outside to the picnic tables to watch the climbers who are staying at the camp as they play a pickup basketball game on the court, mess around on slacklines, or sit in the shade with guitars.

Eventually, someone built like a climber will come out balancing paper plates with slices of pizza on them, and call your name. Your pizza will arrive in front of you and it will be astonishingly good, with a light, thin, perfect crust, and all the stuff you like on it.

2. Ale-8-One.

Generally called Ale-8. This was something I discovered at Miguel’s: our local contact said it was “what everyone drinks around here.” So I ordered one, because I was curious. It’s damn fine stuff: a ginger ale/ginger beer kind of drink. Not too sweet, just gingery enough, with a touch of citrus.

IMG_2784Jex and I became so enamoured of Ale-8 that we each bought a case to bring home. When we were hiking in Natural Bridge State Park, and stumbled across the park’s Easter lunch at the lodge, we were offered some fruit punch that was labeled “Ale 8 Fruit Punch.” They like their Ale-8 in Kentucky apparently.

I will admit that I looked forward to getting out on my balcony at home and combining some Knob Creek bourbon and Ale-8, as a toast to Kentucky. It was pretty darn tasty.

3. Climbers. 

This one might seem obvious, but I had a reminder while I was in Kentucky of why I like climbers. We were sitting in our campground, in the converted hangar sort of thing that serves as a common area, when someone came running in and said, “Hey, if anyone here’s climbing in Muir Valley, there’s a fire in the valley and they need help. As many bodies as they can get, they said.”

So Lena, who was our local contact and who seemed to know everyone, jumped up, and Jex and I followed her, running out of the common area and jumping in her truck to drive over to Muir Valley. As we were on the way we came across the smoke, and then could see the fire, burning along the top of a hill across the valley from the road, just patches of red glow. We stopped at the top of the valley where the road turned down to ask a guy in a parked truck what was happening with the fire. He said it was under control, but we drove on to an area outside a big shed where a group of people were already forming. They had a walkie-talkie and were in touch with someone about the situation, and said it wasn’t confirmed the fire was under control, so they handed out shovels to everyone. There were about 25 of us, but more arriving down the gravel road all the time, parking and jumping out, asking what they could do to help.

Eventually a couple of older folks, a man and a woman, arrived on the scene on a 4-wheeler. (Doing research later, I found out that they were Rick and Liz Weber, who are the reason the Muir Valley exists as a climbing area.) They were totally in charge: whenever either of them had to talk to us, there was a People’s Microphone sort of shushing and we would all listen to whatever they had to tell us. They checked with the farmers who’d set the burn, and took one of the climbers – who, it appeared, was a forest firefighter from Yosemite – to look at the fire and decide if it was growing, and we all stood around, shovels and rakes at the ready, hoping we wouldn’t be needed, trying to figure out what we’d do if we were needed. Another guy was walking around taking photos: “It’s my job,” he said, “it’s what I do professionally, and I don’t know what else I’ll be able to do, but I can take pictures.”

Finally it seemed clear that the farmers who’d set the burn had regained control over the fire, and we were sent back to the campground. But by then there were about 60 or 70 climbers standing around, and when Rick said we could go and thanked us all profusely for coming out, someone shouted, “No, thank you for letting us climb here!” and there was a round of applause and cheering.

As people were leaving, Rick dragged out a couple of coolers and offered everyone some water or Ale-8 if they wanted.

4. The rock.

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