Saturday, April 5, 2014

Beginning the long road

The lingering winter kept me fired up about climbing and neglecting running.  Not a bad thing says the climber inside me.  The runner in me that plans to run the LHHT "double" this June is saying what the hell partner, you better get those soft legs a little firmer, and right quick.   Since the first of the year I've only been out running several times.  It was time to get training before it gets too late.  Off to the trails I went to shake out the cobwebs...   Here's a couple highlighted runs from the last couple weeks.

March 15th Victor Sousol and I ran a "Gate to 8" on a windy but pleasant day.  This was my first outing with Victor as well as his first time running on the LHHT.  He's signed up to run the 70 mile Laurel Ultra in June and wanted to check out the opening hills and familiarize himself with Ohiopyle a bit before race day.  He managed to stumble onto my blog and decided to email me to see if I'd like to meet and run with him.  I only had time to run Gate to 8 once that morning, but Victor went on to complete a "Gate to 8X2" for a total 32 miles of Laurel training.

March 25th I turned 42.  I thought it would be fun spending my birthday running my age in miles on the LHHT.  Laura dropped me off at Beam's Rock at 7:00 AM for the start of my run.  
Good morning legs
She provided excellent crewing after meeting me at 7 Springs.  She provided me with the normal food and liquids as well as birthday surprises, delights and plenty of laughs along my run to Ohiopyle.   
First aid stop, Seven Springs Ski resort
Crossing the slopes of Seven Springs.  I met several curious folks here
42 and still spry coming into route 653 trail head
Heading out for the last 11 miles from Maple Summit parking lot
It was a chilly 28, with plenty of firm ice on the trail.  I had some knee issues begin during the descent at mile post 8.  They persistently became worse, slowing movement down within a half of a mile.  Descents especially were slowed to a crawl with me going down backwards a large portion of the time.  Laura met me at mile post 3 with a down coat and some much needed support as I was in serious pain by this point.  I successfully limped into town completing my goal.  
Limping past the overlook at mile 2.7
After 2 days of rest, my knees recovered and have felt fine since.  This run doubled my yearly mileage to this point.  Which I'm sure was the cause of the knee swelling and pain.  Even with my 8 miles of snail pace factored in my average pace came out to be 13:35/mile.  A very fun and memorable birthday.  Thanks sweetie!

March 31st  I ran the LHHT again from 653 trail head to Ohiopyle to see if my knees were just adapting to the rapid increase in mileage on my birthday run.  It had snowed about 6" a couple days prior.  The temps rose above freezing turning that fluffy 6" into a sloppy nasty trail mess.  The air temperature was around 50, but my feet were sopping before I even hit the main trail from the blue blazed access trail.  By the time I hit mile post 18 I was debating calling Laura to have her turn around and pick me back up at 653.   The runner in me refused and I put my nose to the grind and slogged the 18 miles to Ohiopyle with only a few miles being snow free, but muddy none the less.  I surprisingly hit the Gate completing my run in 3:18, without any knee pain.  A reasonable time considering the condition of the trail.

In the Hemlocks, my favorite section
Blazing new trail on the LHHT
Sloppy conditions for running
From whence I came.  Bluebird snow day on the trail
April 1st Laura and I had a wonderful "date" run.  She's planning a birthday run on the 16th.  She's going to run from mile post 30 to Ohiopyle while I provide crew for her as she did for me.  We decided to run from the gate to 5 on the LHHT to avoid the snow still present above 2200'.   We had a wonderful sunny day to run together.  We took a couple breaks to enjoy the weather and nature.  We had several Eastern Phoebe's calling at one break and at another we spotted 8 Ruby-crowned Kinglets flying through the tree tops.  Several Monarch's were moving north along the ridge as well.  Spring is definitely making a showing and we were embracing!  What a great way to spend a few hours with your honey...

Spring has Sprung!  See you on the trails...

Saturday, March 8, 2014

End the season with a new line?

Stopping for a sunrise view of Ohiopyle falls
The alarm went of at 4:45AM.  Laura and I decided that we wanted to finish up the season on an unfinished line we started the other day.  We had everything packed and sitting by the door the night before.  We stopped at the gas station for some petrol and coffee.  Then it was off to Ohiopyle State Park to try to squeeze in one last line before things disappear for the season.  We parked at Lower Meadow and made the short walk uphill to the climbs.  I had the small pig loaded up with just the necessities to get the line equipped and done.  I hesitantly walked over to the edge and peered over to see if the small drip was still attached to the wall.  Surprisingly it was and I set up the line to rap in and place a couple bolts.  It's a reliable line that never forms very thick or wide.  The usual protection at best would be short, custom, stubbies.  I'd top roped this line many year ago and found it to be quite a bit of fun.  Although the climbing isn't that hard, we thought it would be a great addition for the intermediate climbers.  We pondered and decided to add the bolts to make it climbable in any condition, for anyone.  It's about 40' long and is a tough one to grade.  It's pretty easy, but a little technical due to the thin, poorly bonded ice and in your face climbing for about 20' to the exciting top out.  I'm sure it'll be committing for the average WI4 leader despite the bolts.  The photo of me below on the first ascent doesn't do it much justice.   This is such a fun line and I hope everyone enjoys it as much as we did.  It's officially called The Tampon WI3+.  We'll leave you to guess at the meaning!
Nearing the top on the First Ascent of The Tampon WI3+
Laura coming up the sunny, starting pillar.  A better perspective of the steepness
Committing to the thin, quickly melting, smear
The line tops out at the Hemlock tree.  Awesome turf.  Laura Hahn seconding
The sun encroached on the ice, quickly turning it to water as Laura was topping out.  She did a great job seconding the line in the deteriorating conditions.  We packed up and headed down to Lower Meadow to see the local top rope posse of Blaine, Dave and Pete.  They were there enjoying easy sticks on soft ice.  We joined in the fun for a few laps before calling it a day.  Pleased with getting our new line done before it fell off the wall.

 Giving a belay to the local top rope posse, Blaine and Dave climbing
Enjoying laps on Hemlock with old friends
The remains of some of the Upper Meadow lines laying on the ground
So is this the end of ice season?  We think not!  We're going to be the optimists and head out in the morning again to go "BIG GAME HUNTING."  We'll see if we get lucky and have some fat skyscrapers.  Check back tomorrow to see!

On another side note, I managed to stumble across these little drips while out driving around.  It appears to get sun, but is monstrous.  Please excuse the bad photo, it was taken with my phone, through binoculars at over a mile away.  

These lines are somewhere around 200'  Yeahhhhhh....  More SWPA monsters for 
next season.   Looks to be more WI3's ;)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Tom's Stash of Goodies

        Laura coming up "Center Pillar"

There's this really motivated climber that Laura and I have been climbing with.  Some of you may be lucky enough to know him, but most of you most likely won't.  He's only recently begun ice and mixed climbing with us here in the Laurel Highlands.  He's managed to tick off some rare forming notable climbs in the area.  His name is easy to remember.  It's Tom Thomas.  Most peoples first thoughts are "How is this big guy going to climb ice?"  Then they're utterly amazed when he steps up and sends something most climbers wouldn't consider getting on.  Tom's quite the jovial character who only gets happier when things get harder and more challenging.  He's quick to admit if something is over his head and is a solid guy to climb with.  Ego never gets in this guys way.  To him It's all about having fun regardless of how hard the climbing is.  Tom spent a fair number of days climbing in the Laurel Highlands this season.  Laura and I have been giving him a personal tour of our incredible ice and mixed climbing.  Tom's been climbing for a few years (over 20).  He's been actively searching out ice climbing in some really unlikely areas West of the Laurel Highlands.  He kept telling Laura and I of his many stashes unknown to most.  Large WI3-5 ice climbs, modern mixed, all kinds of "Goodies" right under the noses of many other climbers.  Tom is a very honest guy and I believed him.  This past Tuesday Laura and I made the drive further West in PA to check out a sampling of Tom's hard work.  We met for breakfast then drove a short distant to the parking area for the crag.  A short 3 minute walk had us standing below a short cliffband with plentiful ice drips, flows and pillars.  This area had numerous mixed and ice lines.  Tom put in serious efforts to equip the routes with anchors and bolts where necessary.  Impressive to say the least.  What the area lacked in height was easily made up for in quantity.  We started on Frozen Crackers M4.  It was a nice 15' dead vertical flow that ended at a short rock section and a fun turf topout.  Awesome climb!  Laura was up next and decided to give Frosted Flakes M4 a go despite it's iceless condition.  She onsighted it in proper style finessing her way up the line to the shuts at the overhang.  I tied in and had a really good time climbing The Wild Card M5.  Our last line was Tom going up The Scavanger WI4- in thin conditions. 

Last clip on Frozen Crackers

Topping out

Laura taking a lap on "Frozen Crackers"

      Laura working up "Frosted Flakes"

             Laura on "Frosted Flakes"
Working up through "The Wild Card"
We packed up, hiked back to the car and made a short drive to the next spot.  The next spot was amazing.  It's an ice area that has some FAT 70-80' WI4-5-'s. Extremely easy approach and sooo fat!  Unbelievable nobody has found these other than him.  He's been climbing here for years without seeing anybody.  We were very happy to sample his "Stash of Goodies".  It's a shame the season is ending.  I can't wait to see more of Tom's great work!

Prime lines awaited us
Laura seconding "Center Pillar" WI4
FAT Western PA ice, What a fine day!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Double Date for Winter Storm "Titan"

Me checking out a newly formed, unclimbed line.  Far right flow, I'm bouldering the starting moves.
Called on Account of Security in the forground
What better way to spend a double date than sending sweet lines in SWPA?  We managed just that all whilst enduring winter storm "Titan".  This megastorm (that wasn't) may have had many other climbers quivering in their climbing boots, but not Tom Thomas, and his wife Mariann.  They were happy to brave the storm to join Laura and myself for a "double date" at the local stash.  Tom's been chomping at the bit to sink some picks into the local legends.  Our date went like this...  We met at Valley Dairy in Connellsville for a romantic breakfast of daily specials.  Eggs, meat, and home fries or "little cubed potatoes" as Tom calls them.  Breakfast was awesome as usual and we set off up the ridge for the crag.  We parked and made the hike in.  Upon arrival Tom and Mariann were impressed by the amount of steep ice.
A happy Tom and Mariann
We poked around a bit to scope things out and pick some routes.  Tom and Mariann quickly racked up and got on the ever classic Final Obligation WI5.  Tom was practically buzzing with excitement.  He climbed the line very well and ran it up to the trees for the full experience.  Here's a few photos of Tom enjoying the great conditions.
Tom, all smiles and getting started
Final inspection before committing
The full line of Final Obligation WI5
Mariann on belay, Tom climbing
While Tom and Mariann enjoyed Final Obligation, Laura and I checked out a few lines before deciding to try Big Nasty WI5+.  The line was obviously damaged and rebuilt a bit from the last warm spell.  This only helped the climb live up to its name.  Notoriously funky and usually shotty pro are the norm on this line.  I thought I might be able to pick my way up through safely and tied in for a go.

Starting up Big Nasty
Looked easy enough...
Deep into it and getting worse
Needless to say, I hit my point where protection was too sketchy for me and I bailed...  This shit was spooky regardless what the photos look like.  Tom and Mariann moved onto Called on Account of Security WI4.  It was in the best conditions I think I've ever seen.  While clocking in at the lower end of difficulty for this crag, this climb is surely not to be missed.  Its actually one of my top picks and always a blast!

Mariann in action
Climbing in the fury of  winter storm "Titan"
While Tom and Mariann climbed Called, Laura and I went over and jumped on The Awakening WI5.  It was much skinnier than the last time I'd climbed it, but looked good.  Here's a few photos of me climbing it.
Opening moves of The Awakening

the "crux" section
a few meters to the finish of this gem
Sopping wet and cold from the wet snow that had been falling most of the day, we decided to pack up and make the uphill slog out.  We hiked and were all riding the "climbers high" all the way to the cars.  What an awesome "Double Date" and a great first day for Tom on the undisputed best ice in PA.  Glad you two could join us for some fun.  Keep your fingers crossed for cold temps this week.  We may break our record for the latest day climbed here of March 3rd.  We're looking forward to sampling your mixed stash!

Friday, February 28, 2014

TNT project, second attempts

Me & Tom standing below the TNT project, photo L. Hahn
Yesterday Laura, Tom Thomas and myself met up at Valley Dairy for some breakfast before heading to our new project called TNT.  This was our second day actually trying the new line.  We parked and walked the technical approach to the climb.  Its cool because you get to walk behind a waterfall.  Strapping crampons on at this point will keep you from sliding into the creek and waterfall pool ;) Last time we worked the line, we warmed up on some moderates at Lower Meadow Run before heading to work on TNT.  This time we went straight for the project (lesson learned).  There's not much else to climb in the area of TNT, except the short, roaring WI3 waterfall (which was out), thus no warm-up this time.  I was chosen to take the honors of first try.

Up I went quickly realizing how much the ice on the route had changed since the warm weather.  Stemming to get into the hanger was a bit more of a stretch this time around.  I had to fiddle with a botched stick clip on the first bolt costing me valuable energy.  I clumsily traversed my way across the ice passing the 2nd clip and committing to the overhanging section of ice.  A serious forearm pump came on and all to quickly I realized I was setup for a precarious swing back into the ice pillar.  Off I came partially inverting, just in time to slam my back into the ice.  THUD... "FUCK, that hurt".  It may be bolted, but things can still hurt...
Lowering down after taking the swing back into the pillar
Tom went second.  He made quick work of the start and got into the traverse to just short of where I came off.  He wisely retreated back to safety before another slam came into play.  On his second attempt his hulk like mass dislodged a basketball sized rock onto himself seriously disrupting that attempt.  He then came back like a trooper and matched his high point from last week on his final go.  Here's a few photos of Tom enjoying the intensity of the TNT project.
A very cool line, Tom working across the ice
It feels this steep
Tom Thomas going for it on try 3
Laura was along for the fun. She's seen the line but was along to try it for her first attempts.  "Good things come in small packages" is a perfect description for her.  She's firey, scrappy and totally in her element scraping up mixed climbs with the guys.  Sometimes she'll have troubles reaching the starting holds, but that doesn't stop her... She tied in and stepped up for a few goes.  Here's some photos of Laura in action.
Laura rockin' the "party pants" ask her about 'em,
 she's always happy to show them off
Laura learning the steep start
Established on the ice and contemplating the commitment
We each got 3 tries at the line.  Which to us mortals is plenty of lactic acid.  The pump can get fierce on this one.  Things seem to be coming together a little.  I managed to suck it up and figure out a little beta to reach a new high point and possibly a crucial sequence towards sending.  This thing could end up being the hardest in the region.  Happy Climbing it is!  I hope my bruised and swollen back heal quickly.  I've got plans for some pure ice lines Sunday.  Then early next week I'm hoping to see a plethora of mixed lines established by Tom Thomas.  Possibly more tries on TNT later next week, before the ice is gone.  Too much climbing too little time, way too sore.

Contemplating where to go?

New high point established
On  a running note:  A group of runners are planning to run "Gate to 8" tomorrow in Ohiopyle.  I was planning to attend, but my swollen back from the fall is saying otherwise.  Most runners are meeting at the Falls City Pub parking lot at 8:00 for a meet and greet.  Then off on the trail for 16 miles of LHHT winter single track with some of the biggest climbs in the region.  A great early season outing if you can attend.  I ran the trail last Sunday and found the trail to be snow covered and slippery on N facing hills, but runnable.  Plenty of water, slop and ice, so I ran in "screw shoes" to aid my traction and allow some speed.  It could be run without them, but I wouldn't want to.