Sometimes your ego needs a workout too

Sometimes it’s good to get a little playtime in. And it’s good to bump into some random strangers at the gym and have that moment where you’re all working and encouraging each other on a problem.

I’ve been working doggedly at my strength and endurance on steep stuff. Today I was in Coyote and I did my laps (up, down, up, down, pause on every hold, up, down) dutifully. But then I decided I wanted to go find some technical, thinky, footwork-and-balance problems, because dammit I had been up and down the same three easy steep problems for about 40 minutes. And the skin on those pads right below my fingers was hurting. So I went upstairs to the room where there are always a few fun straight-up technical problems.

In a word: whee.

It’s nice to remember that while problems at one grade will just slap me to the mats in one style, I can sail them in others. If it’s about balance and small edges and fine footwork and physics, bring it on.

IMG_5611I onsighted a couple of fun new problems – one full of slopers, one full of sidepull crimps – and then I found this beauty. (It’s marked in yellow tape, with orange holds, in the picture.)

At Coyote, if I see a set of big holds moving up at an angle on one wall, I get interested. It usually means someone got creative.

It’s over in the corner, and you might not notice it until you see the holds along the brick-red wall. There are some slippery, slanted, greasy-as-shit feet on that wall, and when you walk over you realize there are a couple more on the big grey volume beside you. And then – if you’re me – you find a big grin spreading over your face. This is stemming . . . squared.

A couple of other guys I know at the gym looked at it and thought it looked too dangerous – probably with visions of slipping off and hitting the volume on the way down, though I don’t think the physics actually work like that. But it looked like intense stemming: trusting slanting greasy feet, keeping the pressure on through your shoulders and smearing your feet so you got maximum contact and traction. And not just straight up, but at an angle forward, facing out into the room. I had to get my body onto it, just to see.

IMG_5617So I took a run at it, and started to get a sense of its style. A really fun problem, for me, has a style and a personality, and this one was about trust, belief, and audacity. Just my kind of problem.

I didn’t get too far on the first run, but then I was working on it when another crew came through and looked at it – two guys and two girls. I had just jumped off the halfway point on it, and saw the two girls checking it out. When they started speculating about it, we started talking. Pretty soon one of them had levered herself up onto the first slippery moves, and slowly worked herself higher and higher, until the last, committing, scary move, when you have to get your hand onto a massive jug around the side of the volume, swing around on only one hand, stop yourself against the wall, and go up for the last hold.

She pulled it off, stuck the final hold, and then dropped off, elated, and thanked me for the beta.

I gave it another go, and made it up to the big, swinging move – to the encouragement of the other four – but I’m nervous about my elbow joints – they were feeling a little strained from all the power climbing I’d been doing downstairs – and didn’t commit to the big, orangutan move that would have got me to the top. And then the second of the two women gave it a shot, and got to where I had and popped off. “Oh my god, it’s so scary at that last move,” she said.

The guys with them eventually tried it too, and then we all wandered off to keep climbing other things. But I felt good – I like those kinds of encounters with strangers. I love looking at a thinky route, trying it, working it out, learning its personality and how to tackle it. And it was a relief from the dogged training I’ve been doing. I say I don’t particularly like bouldering, but that kind of thing is fun.

 

 

 

 

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Making the pump clock run slow

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Coyote was a bit of a zoo today. 

The inescapable truth is, if I want to climb harder in 2016, go to the cool places I want to go, lead the cool shit I want to lead, and step up more than I back down, I am going to have to do a lot of relatively boring gym climbing.

One of my biggest weaknesses is that I lose energy on overhanging walls, the ones that need big muscle groups. I’m just fine on long drawn out technical vertical stuff. I can hang out on a tiny toe ledge and a couple of crimps for twenty minutes while I work out the next moves or psych myself up for a really committing move. I have calves and triceps of titanium. But the minute I have to lean back over empty space on a bulge on lead I clench up, and even on top rope my hands lose their grip far faster than I’d like them to when the going gets steep.

I had that brought home to me kind of dramatically a couple of weeks ago at Vertical Reality, when I took a fall as long as a gym fall can reasonably be. The unclipped bolt was at my waist; I was on overhanging ground; I couldn’t get one or the other hand free to make the clip; I was locked off, straight legs and bent arms, like a total numpty; and I made a particularly charming, strangled sound as I plummeted about 12 or 14 feet into space.

This will not do. So, today, just back from a couple of weeks off and a lazy week and a half at home in New Brunswick with my family, I hit Coyote to boulder, hoping to do something about my wimpy hands and forearms this winter.

It’s funny: there’s a (slabby and crimpy) 5.10b/c at Coyote that I nearly onsighted last month, but when you get me on a steep section with huge friendly holds my grip just gives out.

But today, I had a bit of an epiphany. The place was a zoo: people still on vacation, maybe, or maybe now that there’s actually snow on the ground people are coming inside. But I popped on headphones, ignored everyone else, warmed up, and then devoted most of the session to climbing easy routes – a grade or so below my usual projects – but slowly, statically, and pausing for a second or two on every hold to hang from one hand, shaking the other one out or just letting it drop behind me, imagining that I was trying to clip from that stance. I also made a point of downclimbing them, to make them last a bit longer, and hanging from one hand off each hold on the downclimb too.

It was good. Sure, it wasn’t ego-boosting. These problems weren’t going to impress any bystanders. But I made a point of climbing them smoothly and as statically as I could, so I’m pretty sure I at least looked graceful, and the enforced one-handed hang on each hold did more than any other exercise I’ve done to keep my arms straight and legs bent. I was pulling off drop knees I wouldn’t have bothered with on those problems if I wasn’t hitting every hold with the intention of making it as easy as possible to hang one handed, while I dangled the other hand behind me and rotated the wrist a couple of times, counting off a few seconds, pretending I needed to pull up rope and clip.

It was a good exercise. I’m hoping that, unglamourous as it is, it’ll pay off in stronger hands and better grip and better clipping positions in the long run.

 

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2015’s greatest hits

It’s been a good year. The highlight of the whole thing is far and away my birthday in Scotland, but there’s been plenty of local adventure too. We’ve opened up a whole new section at Lac Sam, I’ve ticked off another six or seven mountains in the High Peaks, and there have been a whole lot of gorgeous days on the rock with friends.

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Climbing the Three Sisters of Glencoe with my sisters for my birthday was definitely the highlight of the year.

Also, a couple of days after that, I got to climb Bhuachaille Etive Mor with my brother-in-law Brad. Another highlight.

And then there was the week Phil came to visit and we found a whole new expanse of rock at Lac Sam (“Guys, I have one word for you . . . multipitch!”), climbed the Weir, and went to the Adirondacks for a couple of days.

There was a day out at the Cwm when I scrambled up to the top of Cave Wall to get some action shots.

There were cold days. . .

. . . and there were utterly golden November afternoons.

Here’s to more next year!

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Cleaning and core shots

Lac Sam keeps trying to teach us all the ways a cliff can kill a rope. Also, it keeps teaching us why you back everything up, why you are careful, why you don’t make assumptions about safety.

David and I took Saturday to go out and get some work done at Lac Sam. We’re pretty excited about a bunch of new rock we found while exploring with Phil in October (which I just realized I haven’t posted about yet, and I should do that. I will soon).

So we went out Saturday, because it was going to be dry, and somewhere around 5 degrees. Too cold to climb, but not too cold to work.

David wanted to do a few final touches before calling Left Wing done – a bolt or two and some cleaning on Ovipositor, which was the trad line another crew put up – they said they didn’t mind if we made it a mixed route – a bolt at the bottom of Tits ‘n’ Ass because we broke the ledge people used to start from (a falling rock shattered it) and made it harder at the start, and a couple of other things.

Meanwhile, I went over to Right Wing to work on the top pitch of the new stuff. I thought there would be a lot of loose rock to pry off. I ended up discovering that it was deceptively solid, with tons of gear possibilities, and will make a fun, interesting, easy trad line. I’m stoked to get back next season and put up the first ascent on it. (We don’t know what the bottom pitch will be like yet though.)

It was cold, but I was having a lot of fun scouting my route and scouring some lichen off and levering a few small loose rocks, so I didn’t mind. And then it was about 2:15 and time to ascend back up the rope, pack up, and go find David (we wanted to be out of the woods before dark, and sundown is around 4:15 now.)

When I got over to where David had been working, he showed me this: hello core shot!

CUYM38NUYAEDb0WThere’s sheath damage, and then there’s this. . . spooky. The rope had been rubbing over a sharp edge. And once again, Lac Sam teaches us the reality of that stuff you knew about, sort of, theoretically. Don’t set up your rope so it rubs over an edge because it can cut through the sheath. Don’t let rocks fall on your rope because they can cut through it. If you’re cleaning a route (or really, any time you don’t have to pull the rope at all), tie off the rope at your anchor so each strand is independent, because if you cut through one. . . well.

Needless to say, I have now extracted a promise from David (because he comes out to the lake alone to clean sometimes) that he will always tie off the rope at the anchor and use two isolated sections from now on, if he’s going to be working alone. . .

 

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Lac Sam, mid-October

2015-10-17 11.38.51As imperceptibly as Grief
The Summer lapsed away—
Too imperceptible at last,
To seem like Perfidy—
A Quietness distilled
As Twilight long begun
Or Nature spending with herself
Sequestered Afternoon—
The Dusk drew earlier in—
The Morning foreign shone—
A courteous, yet harrowing Grace,
As Guest, that would be gone—
And thus, without a Wing
Or service of a Keel
Our Summer made her light escape
Into the Beautiful.

Emily Dickinson

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Saving Private Pinky

Last weekend as we were packing up, David noticed he was missing one of his pink tricams. Affectionately known as “Pinky,” that particular little piece of gear is the subject of an ongoing superstition/in-joke with me and David. “Sink the Pink!” is kind of a slogan. I took a pink tri up Neruda last week, not because I thought I would need it, but for moral support. Because, inevitably, when you’re stuck and getting nervous and swearing and can’t find a placement, Pinky somehow, magically, finds a nook and settles in. It’s always Pinky. Pinky has your back.

In fact, I have also all but memorized the “Ode to a Pink Tricam” poem that we found a few years ago, here.

Anyway, last weekend, David couldn’t find one of his two pinks. And a trad draw. We searched through our stuff at the crag, and again when we all got home: nothing. Then David, who happened to have flown out to J-Tree the next day, remembered: he’d left it as a redirect on Arachnophobia, off the Bolt Route Three anchor, and we’d all forgotten about it. When we pulled the ropes and I cleared that anchor, I didn’t know to look for it.

Success!

Success!

Luckily, we knew where it was! And luckily, not many people even climb Arachnophobia (it’s usually wet, often kind of manky, there are actually spiders, and it’s trad). So I offered to head out there one of these days and get it back. Thought I’d have to hike round to the top and rap down to it, but Chantalle offered to meet me one of these evenings and give me a belay so I could climb up to it.

So that’s what we did last night: met up in the evening after Chantalle got out of work, and hiked out, racing the sunset (which is at 6:45 pm right now). I raided my trad rack and slings – and some of Chantalle’s spare carabiners – and built a couple of extra trad draws to make up for the fact that I only own 8 sport draws and knew the route had more than that. I put together a set of 12, though as it turned out I only needed 9. I was also climbing on my stiff, clunky, old, fairly static rope: not a great leading rope, but it was what we had, because Noah had snagged all of his mom’s gear to go explore some crags he found near his CÉGEP.

I’m pleased to report that Pinky was okay, alert, and visible from the ground: I climbed up to the Bolt Three anchor, then lowered off over to the right so I could fetch it. It was covered in moss and loam, no doubt from the utter bucketing of rain it got the day before, but unharmed. (Chantalle then followed so she could get the gear and get a climb in: she did it in her trail shoes, which is a lot more challenging.)

We did end up hiking back out by headlamp, but it wasn’t totally dark yet when we got to the cars around 7:20.

Pinky is now recovering at my apartment and will be reunited with its rack when David gets back from all the many sunny warm places he is right now.

Pinky, resting comfortably and recovering at my house.

Pinky, resting comfortably and recovering at my house.

 

 

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And the nemesis falls!

Victory is mine!

Went up to Western Cwm today with a pretty big crew of people – who could blame people for wanting to get out on a mid-twenties, sunny fall day? This is the best time for climbing: the air is cool but the sun is warm, the rock is grippy, and maybe the sense that this isn’t going to last adds a sort of impulse to savour it and get the most out of it.

Our group ended up numbering eight, and when we got to the rock we discovered a group of about twelve Boy Scouts, at least one family with young kids, and maybe a couple of other groups. The rock was a little crowded.

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Carole taking to the outdoor rock like the proverbial fish to water.

But we scrambled over to North Wall where there were a couple of lines free. (The other two had Boy Scouts on them: the climbers were frequently panicked, clutching the rock, and scrabbling in their sneakers; the belayers alternating between a stream of not-so-helpful advice, needling each other, and mocking the climbers for doing what they themselves had probably also done when they tried it. . .)

It being North Wall, I had zero qualms about leading both the open routes (they were trad, and easy). Meanwhile, our friend Carole was outdoor climbing for the first time (and took to it pretty well). We even had her clearing trad gear, somewhere around her second climb. (Not the top anchor: just my gear.)

I’d been planning to lead Neruda, after last weekend’s success, so when we’d done all we really could over at North Wall, David and I got our stuff together and scrambled back down to Cave Wall. Where no one was climbing Neruda, because it was mostly Boy Scouts on the easy, long, sport lines on the adjacent wall. I ran through my gear, but really ended up borrowing a few cams from David because I knew about how big the crack was going to be, about what size I’d need, and that I wouldn’t really need that many.

Of course, I did wind up not having a small enough cam at the first placement. Luckily, I wasn’t all that high at that point. Like at all.

Anyway, after that little hiccup, it went just fine. I wasn’t even scared. At one point, I realized that the second piece I put in was in the way of where I wanted to put my foot for the crucial foot-jam that opened the climb up for me last week. I was hanging off a balled-up fist wedged above me, and managed to get the piece out again and walk it up about a foot so it was out of my way. Then pulled the move and got my hands on the hallelujah hold on top of the ledge about three-quarters of the way up, and I knew I had it.

I even had the guts to do the “full value” version getting over the last little roof – laying back off the edge and walking my feet up until I could swing a foot over and I was done. I placed two different pieces under the roof to back me up, just in case I placed a foot wrong, but I didn’t need them.

(Then realized I didn’t actually have proper anchor gear and had to use my last two draws to build a quick and dirty sport anchor. Oh well.)

I’m really kind of surprised by how easy I suddenly found this route. Only a couple of months ago, I was falling off the crux, working really hard to try and grunt my way through it. And people who are much stronger than me fell while toproping it yesterday.

I don’t know for sure what changed. Partly, I think, I’ve felt myself using my feet and legs more effectively in the last little while, I’ve felt my core muscles working properly again, and maybe there’s a little credit going to my stickier, finesse-ier, more technical shoes. When Neruda spits me off, it often comes along with a feeling like I’m dragging the lower half of me up, like my legs are just extra weight to haul. When I send it, it takes no effort at all to see the foot jam that gets me through the crux, and no effort to get my foot up and wedged in it.

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Chantalle keeping it cool on the sharp end.

I realized at the end of the day that in fact I only top roped one climb – Jugness, which has lousy thin gear in the only spot that really needs protecting. I led everything else. I don’t often lead everything I do in a day.

Aside from the Neruda win, one other highlight was that I finally got back on Bolt Route One, which I haven’t led, or even climbed, in ages, and which is still a lovely, lovely climb at its grade, with a slightly bold start before you even get clipped in (I protected it with a cam, actually, though I remembered being able to pull the start just fine years ago when I wasn’t as strong), and a bit of slab between the second and third bolts that a lot of people seem to find super scary – and which has never really bothered me that much: but then, I’m a slab fan.

Chantalle also got a lead in, on Bolt Route Three (that’s her over to the left), and kicked ass. It’s a long route: just when you think you must be about done you look up and there’s another 10 metres or so to go. Chantalle leads in the gym all the time and she’s really strong, but sport routes outside are a whole different psychological ball game, with bolts much further apart.

I got myself up to the top of Cave Wall so I could get pictures of her lead – the easy scramble around to the anchors and the big ledge you can stand on is really useful for getting good photographs. While I was up there, I also caught a couple of people top roping Security, just below me.

Helen getting grippy on Security.

Helen getting grippy on Security.

We had pretty much climbed the area out by around 5:00 – I was still eyeing Routes A and B on North Wall, now that the teenagers were gone, but didn’t feel like I needed to lead them. And a couple of us were getting into the tired range, so we sorted gear – always a bit of a process when you have multiple people with multiple sets of gear – packed up and headed back down the hill to the cars and home.

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Well, that was unexpectedly easy.

Out for what amounted to a “cheeky climb” with Noah yesterday morning – he needed to be back in town for 3:00 pm, and it was due to start raining around then anyway, so it was a short day – I found myself fidgeting with my gear, and looking at Neruda.

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Neruda is a . . . contentious climb. If you don’t have that much experience with cracks, it will spit you off. I have fought Neruda many times. Sometimes, I send it. Sometimes, I really don’t. Sometimes I have to fight and fight to get through the middle section, where you have to get your fists in, jam your toe in, step up, and get high enough to get a hand up and over the ledge just below the last layback moves.

Once before, I got through Neruda without falling. Like four years ago. I wasn’t sure what did it then, but I was elated – and then disappointed when, the next time I faced it, I fell again, feeling like my legs were leaden.

Yesterday, for some reason, I was tempted to lead it, which I’ve never done before. But I only had my little “Goblin Deck” of a rack, and I wasn’t actually sure I had the right gear, or enough of it, and I knew the crack was a bit – odd. It’s narrow at the opening, widens a little inside, and it’s a really uneven width all along. Wriggly. And like I said, I usually fall off Neruda and I need to hang off a couple of my cams, I think, so I can put my trust in them.

I decided to split the difference and climb on top rope, but with my gear, as a sort of mock lead. That way I’d climb it with the extra weight, I’d get used to where the placements were, I’d get a sense of how it felt to put the gear in, and I’d know if my goblin deck could handle it. So that’s what we did.

And it was amazing how easy the climb was. I feel a little bad that I chickened out of the lead, actually, because it would have gone swimmingly. I don’t know what the difference was, except that maybe having to stop and place gear got me to focus on the moves. Especially, I had to be efficient and save energy.

Also, perhaps, the reason this is such a good climb (and it is) is that the stances are obvious. You get to a fairly comfortable jam, get a hand free, fiddle with your gear, plug in a cam pretty much anywhere, because if it doesn’t fit in one spot, it will a couple of inches up or down, clip your quickdraw, and go. Sure, I’d have to try a couple of different sizes, but for some reason I was totally relaxed on the stances.

Then it was time for the crux, which, I think, I usually overthink, trying to avoid the layback move. This time I didn’t: placed something toward the top of the layback section, then got out of the crack, found small footholds for the right foot (thank you Katanas), stepped up, then saw the obvious foot jam and stepped high for it, and up for the hallelujah hold. It was laughably easy, actually. Last time, I was panting and shaking when I got there. This time, it was nowhere near that much work.

Noah said something like, “So, you’re off climbing for a couple of months, you come back, and you’re better?” I had to shrug. And then put another piece in to protect the layback, walk-up-the-wall section at the top before the anchors.

Was it the forced focus and rhythm of stopping for gear? Am I actually that much better since the last time I tried this climb? It has felt, recently, like I’m using my legs and feet better, but in this case, I think, it was about not wasting energy trying to get fancy with crack climbing. There are more efficient ways to do it. And when my brain was in “lead mode,” I subconsciously ramped up the efficiency. Maybe. It was certainly surprisingly easy this time.

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So there’s this abandoned mine in Quebec. . .

I love it when an area you’ve lived in for years can still surprise you.

I had never heard of Wallingford-Back Mine, in Mulgrave-et-Derry, Québec, until a friend posted a link about it on Facebook last week. But the description sounded really cool – an old, abandoned quartz and feldspar mine about an hour from Ottawa. Open to the public but apparently only really well-known to locals, the mine operated from 1924 to 1972, at which point it was abandoned and left to fill up with water – maybe from a spring, I don’t know for sure.

But once I found out about it, I had to go find it. So yesterday, my friend Robyn and I went in search. It was easy to find – for one thing, it’s at the very end of a road called “Chemin de la mine” off Highway 309. We’d thought there might be some hiking involved, but nope: the road (rough dirt and rocks, deeply potholed, very steep in places – I worried a bit about whether my little Aerio would make it back out) led us straight there.

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Photo by Robyn Pacey.

From the entrance it didn’t look like much. A chainlink fence, ripped open in front of a hole in the hill, surrounded by some trash and graffiti scrawls, and a chewed-up dirt track road that made a loop near the mouth of the mine and branched up the hill beside it.

And, strangely, about sixty feet away there was what looked like a squatter: someone had set up a small tent and put all their stuff in the yard in front of it – including a mountain bike, a hanging wicker seat hung from a tree branch, a few crates and boxes, and a firepit. Oh, and a full drum kit. Weird, but not exactly majestic.

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But then we went through the hole in the fence and got a look inside.

Photo by Robyn Pacey.

Photo by Robyn Pacey.

The mine hollowed out an entire hill, leaving massive stone pillars to support the arching roof, and the remaining feldspar means that the water is crystal clear and an incredible shade of greenish blue. It’s also deep. Really deep. I don’t think I’d care to estimate how deep. A little way in, the edge just drops off into deep blue nothing.

Photo by Robyn Pacey.

Photo by Robyn Pacey.

I haven’t found anything yet to suggest that anyone’s scuba dived here, but someone must have, in the last 40-odd years. . . I wonder what they found. How deep did the mine go? Are there shafts down there? I can’t find any information on it so far.

But before venturing into the (icy, bitterly cold) water, we went for a bit of a scramble/hike around to the top of the mine, to get a good look at it.

Photo by Robyn: me at the top of one of the arches.

Photo by Robyn: me at the top of one of the arches.

And this is what we found: half the hill gone, and a series of arches above the water that might have been 30 metres high or more in spots. There was a fence around the whole thing, but there were also a couple of holes in the fence that were easy to just step through, and it was clear that people walk around up there all the time – there were worn pathways. I get the feeling the fence is there so that the municipality can point at it if anyone gets hurt and say, “we put up a fence, you clearly should have known it was dangerous, it’s not our fault.”

But the area around the top of the mine was just fine to walk around on, never steep or treacherous, and it gave us a sense of the sheer size and scale of the thing. It also gave us a sense of the colour of the water.

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Again, one of Robyn’s pictures.

Because both of us are also geology fangirls, we picked through some of the loose rocks and found glasslike pieces of clear, smoky and rose quartz, oblong chunks of white, red, and orange fine-grained feldspar with facets so sharp and sheer they reflected the sunlight, and fine sheets of something that might have been porphyritic granite (although some of it had broken in such thin, delicate flakes that I found it hard to think it was granite). We stuck fragments in our pockets and showed them to each other and generally acted like kids with shiny pebbles.

And I had to take the “vertiginous feet” picture, of course.

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In some places the rainbow colours of the stone were striking. I found this one deep red boulder – hard to believe the colour was real (and there was some graffiti on it, so I had to look twice), but it was.

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Inside the mine, the patterns of yellows and reds and streaks of black made us both think of the Lascaux Caves.

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And then it was time to go back down to the entrance, strip down to bathing suits, and screw up our courage to jump into that cold, cold, clear, very deep, very cold, water.

After the initial shock and gasping, we struck out between the massive, arching feldspar columns. The water was brilliantly green where the sun hit it, and deep, strange blue in the shadows. On the roof, patches of reflection rippled and stirred.

Robyn took this one too, with my waterproof(ish) sports camera. Which didn't exactly stay waterproof, but that's a whole other story.

Robyn took this one too, with my waterproof(ish) sports camera. Which didn’t exactly stay waterproof, but that’s a whole other story.

We did a circuit of the mine, batting some driftwood out of the way (there were dead trees floating in the water), and of course I started looking at those huge pillars and thinking how cool it would be if it was possible to climb them. They’re sharp, slick, glassy, and angled all the wrong ways. I was wearing my water sandals, so I couldn’t seriously try climbing them, and of course the rock below the waterline was slicked up with algae. But all around the pillars the water just dropped off, too deep to see the bottom even in the clear water, so I figured if I could get up a few feet, or even several, the fall and splash would be safe.

This pillar was vertical but actually looked possible. . . true, you`d have to belay from a boat, or DWS and jump off when you got as high as you wanted to get. . .

Of course I tried to get up on one of the pillars. Unfortunately, I was wearing sandals. Not optimal.

Though you definitely wouldn’t want to climb higher than you were willing to launch yourself off from, and you would want to have checked to be sure there were no ledges under you.  I didn’t try it, anyway: I wasn’t wearing my rock shoes (in fact I was wearing sandals) and I did have a GoPro headband that I would not have wanted to knock off. Watching an expensive toy slowly waver its way down through many metres of water would suck.

And I really couldn’t tell, from looking at it, whether the rock would be climbable on gear. (Yes, you’d have to belay from a boat or something – though there are a couple of places in the mine where the base of the rock is dry – and yes, this is an abandoned mine so you’d want to check out how solid the rock generally is, and all that.) It looked. . . sparse, from what I could see, but I didn’t spend a lot of time scouting. The feldspar and quartz are so crystalline that they break in blocks along their lines of cleavage and don’t leave much in the way of fissures or cracks. Though I did see a couple. One pillar, in fact, looked like it wouldn’t be all that hard to climb, if you could find the placements. And the rock could, if the edges were keen enough, be sharp enough to scratch – it sliced my right thumb pad like a paper cut at one point.

Mostly, though, we just swam in the astonishingly blue-green (but did I mention it was cold?) water and watched the reflections on the huge vaulted stone ceiling.

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We swam back out after a little over a half hour in the water, crawled up onto the ledge and out into the sunlight, warmed up and had a granola bar and an apple each; then Robyn offered to go back in while I climbed back up around to the top of the mine to get a picture of her in the water, so we could really capture the scale of the place. And then it was time to dry off, hop back in the car, and head back home.

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Bree Newsome. . . climber?

I watched the video of Bree Newsome taking down the Confederate Flag with all the requisite this-is-history-type chills. This looks to me like civil disobedience at its most moving and meaningful: a brave and fierce woman making a striking stand for her cause, calmly and with conviction.

But I admit that I also, in the midst of it, looked at the gear she was using. I can’t help it. It’s a thing. I see climbing, I check for gear. Hmm. . . a harness. Looks like she has a foot in a loop to help in ascending. A couple of friction bands to edge her up the pole, attached to the harness. A helmet, even.

Then I saw this, tonight.

Sorry, what? I know people who pole dance. No, it doesn’t involve harnesses, or specific gear. No. Just no. The point with pole dancing is that it’s about using the friction of your own skin and the physics of specific moves. But whatever. Meanwhile, she answers a question I’d kind of wondered about: where did she get the climbing skills?

And then she adds:

If you’re ever in the Ottawa area and you want to get out climbing, Bree. Just saying.

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