Thursday, December 29, 2011

Laura's last free days

Well I'm sad to report that my faithful climbing partner has decided to become a full time student starting next week.  This leaves me well... needing partners.  This was her last free week to get out and climb as much as possible, not an easy task given the current weather trends.  Today we made the best of things (again) and since she's never been to Rattlesnake Rocks, we decided to hike there and make a day of it.  We had fun climbing the short, but challenging routes.  Here's a few highlights of Laura involved in some "mixed" action today. (If you look closely there is a wee bit of ice located in some of the cracks) This may be the closest thing Laura gets to winter climbing before school starts.  Best of Luck in school Laura, you'll be greatly missed as my daily partner.

Laura making some moves

SWPA ice climbing season continues (without ice)

This is by far the worst ice season I've encountered in my 15 years of South Western PA ice climbing. The 10 day forecast isn't looking so favorable either. This morning the Laurel Highlands were dusted with a little snow. Enough to motivate me to load up a full winter kit and set off for the woods in search of some new climbs. I figured if nothing else i'd get some mileage in whilst bushwhacking through the greenbriar filled jungles of Dunbar in "Fayetteville Cong".

I took a hike into a seldom climbed area named Rattlesnake Rocks. It's in the vicinity of Krahlick and Elk Rocks. Climbed mostly in the 80's by Ray Burnsworth and pals. It's a short crag that houses a fair number of climbs in the 20 to 30' range. No sport climbing here. All routes were either top roped or led trad. There are numerous moderate cracks and flake options for the aspiring trad climber.  Rattlesnake Rocks got its name from the rattlesnakes that are known to frequent the area during the warmer months. I spent some time dry tooling across the base of an overhanging wall.

The left end of Rattlesnake Rocks is a great place for dry tool training

 It's a great place to dry tool train with many variations and a nice flat landing. I was alone and climbed sans crampons in my mountain boots.  After about an hour of bouldering and a few shots of the area I set off further across the ridge to see what I could find new.  I was bushwhacking and scrambling around the hillsides.  All of a sudden out of no where I stumbled into this little place.

Slabs stacked like dominos this newly discovered crag is
approximately 50' tall and has some very clean looking trad lines.
There's more crag to the right of what is visible in this photo.

 The climbing looks awesome.  I didn't notice any signs of previous climbers, but a few ascents may have taken place here over the years. Ed Coll, Ivan Jirak, Cal Swogar... There were a few folks that thrashed through the thickets, climbed what they could and moved on.  Unfortunately many of the pioneers of the area are now deceased or have moved on leaving the history a little less than known.  Either way, the routes look like a lot of fun and we're planning our first climbing visit this New Years Day.  Here's a few of the plums that adorn this crag.
The first line I walked up to,
a seam system unlike many in these parts

Center section of the crag.  Nice flakes and corners awaiting us

It was getting later in the day and I still had quite a hike out.  I finished exploring a little and made my way to the car dreaming of the great new climbs I found.  I had a great day exploring old crags and finding new.  After all the time I've spent wandering the ridges and valleys of SWPA, the thing that I enjoy most is what I find next...

Not only new crags, but this is one of the things you might find in SWPA???

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Pike Run Dry Tooling

The small outcrops at Pike Run work great for dry tooling
East coast ice climbing has had another dismal week.  Above average temperatures and rain are preventing the ice climbing season from getting underway.  Locally we've had 40 degree rainy days with evening temps hovering around freezing.  Yesterday Laura and I had some time to get out climbing and didn't want the lack of ice this season ruin our motivation.  With possible rain in the forecast, we decided to hit a small local spot for some dry tooling.  We decided to head over to Pike Run for some dry tool investigation.  Pike Run is predominantly a bouldering area with a few 25' outcrops that offer a little top roped climbing.  I installed a few bolt anchors on top of the outcrops in 2000 to help lessen the impact of anchoring off the small trees at the top.  For those that don't know, I used to own a climbing shop and guide service located about 5 minutes down the road in Donegal. Pike Run offered folks a place to climb very close to my shop.  Much to my surprise Pike Run is still being used on a regular basis.

Tim checking out the Citronella Cave V4 to V6
Laura getting ready to give it a go...
Laura on our 3rd climb
Enjoying the new opportunities
 The approach trail has had some impressive work done to it.  Someone also went as far as to build landings at the bottom of the Tower outcrop at the descent trail.  My hat is off to those ambitious folks that took the effort to help maintain this local climbing resource.  The rock at Pike Run is sandstone.  Its coarse, not nearly as compact and solid as the sandstone located in most places on Chestnut Ridge.  The outcrops at Pike Run offer some great dry tool options.  Laura and I had a great time exploring and trying out some lines.  We climbed 3 lines overall taking laps on each several times.  The moves varied  from easier M3/4 to M8 with the climbing being somewhat technical and not as straight forward as it looks from the ground.  Rounded and sloping are the norm with a few usable cracks here and there.  It was nice to revisit and take a serious thrashing at an area I haven't climbed in a few years.  I'm sure we'll be back to pump ourselves silly soon enough.

Laura practicing climbing in ice boots without tools

On a non climbing note:
On the way home from Pike Run we were pleasantly surprised to see a pair of Northern Goshawks near Acme Dam on county line road.  One was actively hunting and perching while the other perched the whole time far off on a field edged by forest.  It will be interesting to see if they are here wintering or passing through to other territory.  Goshawks are our largest accipiter and are irregular visitors to our region.  They live in the colder, northern climates of Canada during summer and migrate south for the winter.  The Goshawk is related to our summer resident Sharp-Shinned and Coopers hawks.  Here's a photo we shot of one perched on a dead snag.

Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis
near Acme Dam, Dec. 16, 2011

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Improved ice bouldering 12.13.11

Laura making the best out of the limited ice currently in the area
Laura and I decided to head out and see if the ice bouldering was still "in".  The weather forecast isn't looking too promising for the next week, so we decided to get in what we could.  Laura had spent the previous day on the Laurel highlands hiking trail in the vicinity of the ice bouldering with "Shifty" our Doxie want-a-be.  He's a 30lb hiking machine that we found at Schoolhouse crag several years ago.  Their favorable outing prompted us to take the short drive up the ridge and see if we could scratch around a little.  We were pleasantly surprised to see that the ice flows grew a little since my last visit.   This was Laura's first visit to our new ice training resource.   We spent a few hours traversing the flows and rock getting a bit of a workout in.  Laura took advantage of the plentiful sunshine basking and warming when necessary.

Is that a climber in distress?  No, its just Laura basking.
Its a lot of fun and a great way to get a little training in.  Well worth our time considering it was 45° in Pittsburgh today.  We hiked back to the car in a plethora of sunshine and blue skies. A very enjoyable day for sure.

Plenty of training to be had.  Lots of traversing on
limestone with a little ice thrown in.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Ice tinkering 12.11.11

The ice bouldering conditions I found on Sunday 12/11/11
I wasn't sure there would be any ice and I was partnerless, but being an optimist I pack up my tools and crampons and decided to head out and see if I could find anything "climbable".   I made my way to an area in the Laurel Highlands that is around 2650' in elevation figuring that as all the lower stuff was sure to be a wash.  I drove as far I could until the icy roads and steep inclines would've trapped me for sure.  It was a pleasant day with the temps in the mid 20's to 30 degrees and the sun shining.  I ended up hiking about a mile down the the icy road to the crag slipping and sliding my way down the hill.

Happy to find ice and enjoy the colder weather.

The ice I found was a little delaminated with running water in some areas, but was tall enough and stable enough that I could get some early season mixed training in.  What the ice lacked in size it surely made up for in fun!  I was able to traverse several hundred yards covering both ice runnels and rock.  The ice varied in thickness from relatively thin (enough to hold body weight) to some decent swing and sticks.  It was nice to see ice again.  The temps up high have been cold since my visit and should still be good.  I plan to visit again this week for some more early season ice bouldering.

After ice bouldering I went to check other areas.
Here's the best I found.  Still has a ways to go, but winter
is almost here!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The season is underway... sort of

Hello again winter fanatics.  Hope everyone had a great spring, summer and fall.  My faithful climbing partner/girlfriend Larua and I have been out dry tool training and scoping things out for the upcoming winter season.  Great News... We think we've found the largest concentration of moderate ice climbs in Western PA.  As the weather gets better (worsens) we'll be able to tell you more.  It could be home to over 20+ WI3 to WI4 routes.  We've also been eyeing up some new mixed lines that are begging to be climbed.  It should be a good year full of new routes.  We've been getting our workout on as much as possible.  Laura has come out swinging! getting early season clean ascents of routes most local "dudes" won't even try.  The start of things freezing is (hopefully) a few short weeks away.  The woods and cliffs are dripping plenty and all the water looks promising for an incredible year.  We didn't rock climb a whole lot this summer, but we did keep our tools very active during the winter "off" season April-November dry tooling as much as possible.

I figure there is no reason to bore everyone with long tales of my off season activities, so I'll sum it up in a few sentences.  I spent the spring and summer running... Mostly trails, but also some pavement running with a few races thrown in for good measure.  I managed to do quite well across the disciplines.  My true love of running is long distance in the woods for many hours at a time.  Below is a photo that Laura took during a HOT summer run.  She had it set on our computers wallpaper for most of the season.  It shows me in all my glory during a run on the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail.  I usually spend 5 days a week training on this 70 mile point to point trail.  Its a short distance from our house to the trail which makes training convenient.  On the trail I've adopted the name "woodz ninja" although below I look more like "Salt Pig Sweat Hog"  It definately keeps me in shape for winter climbing.  Laura spent the majority of the off season hiking a lot and volunteering at Powdermill Nature Reserve in Rector, PA.  She helped in the bird banding lab.

Around mile 50 or 60 in 90° humid summer 
weather at one of our "Mobile Aid Stations"
The other hobby I enjoy is hawk watching.  Unfamiliar with it?  It's more like the counting, study and observing of migrating raptors for scientific purpose.  In particular I've been interested in the migration habits and paths of the Golden Eagle through the central Appalachian chain.  Every year in mid September I slow climbing "training" and start hawk watching for a few months.  This upcoming spring season I am starting the first official hawk watch in Western MD.  If you have any interest or would like to learn more check out my blog for the Cumberland Gap Hawk Watch.  It'll explain a great deal.  If you have any questions please get in touch.  As climbers we spend a great deal of time in raptor territory and being able to identify and understand these amazing birds soaring around the crags is well... pretty awesome!

Another recent project I helped with involved former PA ice climber Rob "Griz" Ginieczki author of the 2006 climbing guide titled Ice Climbing Pennsylvania.  Much has changed in PA climbing since 2006 and it was time for an update.  Griz approached me to help with the Southwestern PA section.  Personally I can say quite a bit has been added to the SWPA section and should help everyone climb even more ice in our region.  The book is in print right now and should be out in time for this season.  I'll keep you posted as to when they are available.  Great job Griz!  Keep the PA ice community stoked and getting after it!

Stay tuned as the winter progresses and the climbing starts to happen.  I'll be posting regularly again keeping ya'll updated on the happenings around here.  Train on!   -Tim

Monday, March 7, 2011

New Video from Wildfilm Productions

Amphitheater II

Our good friend Ray Burnsworth of Wildfilm productions put together a short clip of Upper Meadow Amphitheater.  A huge thanks goes out to Rayman for the efforts and great clip. Follow the link from here to view or click on the image above.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

WHAT... There's still ice

Just when I thought it was over. Ice season had ended.   Low and behold there's (a little) more.  We were given a bit of good news the other day.  Laura caught wind from a good friend of ours that there was still some climbable ice if we were interested.  Of course we were.  He told her of a still fat 20' pillar tucked away in a shaded little nook.  She called to tell me right away.  Other than some mixed stuff with poorly bonded "snice" we really haven't had much climbable ice in a few weeks due to the heavy rains and unseasonable warm temperatures.  Eagerly we made the half hour approach to see if we could squeeze in one more ice climb.  Sure enough there was a short 20' pillar with a mixed exit that was still in good condition.  Granted it wasn't a rope stretcher by any means, but it sure was fun to get on a little more ice.  It was smooth and lovely (a little hollow), but amazing compared to anything I'd seen in a while now.  Not to mention that it was a beautiful day for a walk in the woods.  A much appreciated thanks goes out to the searching samurai that gave us the tip on this little beauty.  Here's a few pictures of our fun outing.

As we set out.  I'll admit I was doubtful

a little break for the passing trains, will there be ice?

Here's what we found.  Hard to believe!

Laura finishing a screw unaware of the muck that lies ahead
On the ride home we stopped to check
 out other ice enthusiasts

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Is winter season over in SWPA?

There's still ice at Upper Meadow.
If you don't mind it being a little detached.
Here's what's left of the Schoolyard climbs.
The warm weather sure has put a hurting on our local ice.  The winter season has ended for most local tool swinging folks, but Laura and I have been making the most of the ice still left.  The recent below freezing temps and snowfall has helped to prolong our climbing just a bit.  We thought all hope was lost, but low and behold we squeezed in a few more days of winter climbing since my last post.  We spent a few days at Lower Meadow Run in Ohiopyle.  Up until yesterday most of the mixed lines were still climbable.  Many of the lines are running with a lot of water.  Anger Management was in great condition and offered great dry tooling up to the plastic ice at the finish.  We managed to climb Season Finale via the direct ice start in the AM only to see most of it come down by afternoon.  Yesterday was the last day we climbed.  There may be a little left, but I wouldn't expect much.  If you're like us and don't want to hang up the tools just yet, get dry tooling.  We've got plenty of great choss climbing around to keep your forearms pumped until next season.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Early Valentine's Day for us

Laura and I wanted to keep with our tradition of Valentine's day ice climbing, but the temps were already up to 45° today and tomorrow is calling for warmer and rain as is the rest of the week.  We decided to make Valentines day come early this year.  We headed out to see if we could get one last day of some big ice lines.  Our intentions were to climb The Beast and possibly a new mixed gear line on the right side of the cliff that we noticed last week.  It follows a fracture line up a blank steep wall for 40' to a flow that continues up another 90' or so to the large Called on Account of Security ledge.   Well we went straight to The Beast to see if the bottom 30' came in enough to get on it.  It actually got worse since last week, but I was willing to investigate.  I started walking towards bottom of the climb to see what I could make happen with the  unconnected pencil pillars, when all of a sudden I hear some rockfall.  5 or 6 large basketball sized boulders were plummeting towards earth in Laura's direction.  I barely had time to yell "RUN" and Laura had already noticed the panic in my eyes.  She took off like a bullet away from the cliff. All I heard was the loud THUD sounds made by the rocks hitting the ground behind us.  I was having flashbacks to a day we had at The Gun club several years ago when the large upper tier collapsed and showered us with an enormous amount of ice, large ice.  I was extremely lucky to walk away with only some serious deep tissue damage and Laura with a huge bruise on her ass.  We could have easily been killed by any number of chunks that came down that day.  I still question how we made it through the shower without being pummeled.  We stood there for a few minutes, debating if this was worth trying.  More debris was falling every minute or so.  I debated alternate starts, but all across the cliff it was raining rockfall.  Not the little scree stuff that falls at the end of season.  We're talking blocks.  The air temperature was rising quick and making things worse.  Since this was our Valentine's Day climb,  we decided to stay a couple a little longer and abandon this wall and try one of the others.  We hiked back up to Central and looked down to the right watching things fall all over.  Our new mixed line was a seam strewn with smaller chunks and blocks that are usually held together by the ice.  It was out of the question as water was now running down the seam assuring us that all the rock in the crack were rendered useless for protection.  We were determined to get our V-day climb in so we just picked the biggest, driest, safest line we could find.  It was so worth it.  I climbed the line enjoying the funky 3D climbing and fresh ice this weeks cold weather formed.  I finished the pitch and built an anchor to bring Laura up.  She was grinning from ear to ear up until the crux.  For that section she had a little more intent look and even called out a rare "watch me".  She pulled through without hanging and finished in great style.  We enjoyed the view from the top for a moment and quickly returned to to the ground to head out before we pushed our luck too far and ruined our V-day climb by one of us getting crushed.  It was still early, so we opted to head to Ohiopyle.

Laura enjoying our Valentine's day climb here in SW PA

The belay offered a nice angle for photos
So much fun climbing ice together, Laura lovin' it!

Smiling through most of it!

My happy girlfriend, the worlds greatest climbing partner.
Happy Valentine's Day
Ohiopyle was interesting to say the least.  We walked to the top of the Upper Meadow area.  To our amazement we didn't see any ropes set up.  I started to walk towards the top of the climbs to peer down.  All of a sudden a tool with a rope attached to it came flying up over the top towards an exposed root.  A guy was tossing the tool towards the root with the intentions of hooking it to assist him through the last several melting out moves.  Crazy bathook antics for sure!
You can see the tool laying on the root ahead of my left foot.
We watched for a few minutes before deciding to leave before the sky started falling!   All in all it was a great day and we fulfilled our Valentine's day climbing! (a day early)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Plastic ice, bluebird skies and a good day of winter climbing!

Behind the ice climbs at Upper Meadow Run, natural lighting.

Winter climbing?  It really didn't feel like winter as we stood in the Upper Meadow Run amphitheater in Ohiopyle state park.  The warm sun felt good on the face and made for very pleasant climbing.  Laura has been sick for the past week and seemed to pass it on to me over the last couple days.  She's getting better and I'm now feeling achy and congested. We'd been watching the weather and realized that the end is drawing near and decided to get after it while the getting is good, despite health.  The forecast isn't looking that great in the near future.  Temps are going to begin to rise and stay above freezing for quite a few days.  The ice has been building at an amazing rate since last weekends warm up but this is what I'm assuming is the beginning of the end.  Next week may be all we get before the ice becomes unclimbable.  Get out and enjoy the great ice here in SWPA this weekend.  It may be your last opportunity. 

I'm so glad we decided to go out.  What a great day of climbing!  The warm sun, Ibuprophin and cough drops made the temporary improvements necessary for me to enjoy the day.  We started our day off by climbing The Schoolyard pillar which was in great shape on the shaded side.  It was very smooth, unlike the chopped out front.  The upper section was beat on by the sun and made for little to no protection on slush covered, melted out ice (glad the climbing was easy) up to the Hemlock.  Laura seconded enjoying the fantastic ice on the pillar.  
Looking down from the belay
Laura finding the "good ice" in the shade
 FYI, I've recently placed a rap anchor on the hemlock at the top of the Schoolyard climbs to reduce wear on the tree from everyone pulling the rope after rapping, please do not take the anchor and ring  If you need one email me and I'll find a way to get some to you.  Enjoy!   

Since I was feeling down and Laura was up, she had the opportunity to run quite a few practice laps on the various pillars climbing one tooled, no tooled, etc. to improve footwork and increase efficiency.  She had a blast climbing to her hearts content for quite a while.
Laura climbing one tooled, ala Jeff Lowe
With the weather situation looking grim, I figured time was precious.  I managed to summon up the energy to get on the project again today.  I've been on it about 5 times this season and have been making good progress.  Here's some photos Laura took of the route today.

Ray Burnsworth of Wildfilms showed up later in the day to film
a little ice to start
off the ice and starting the business 
feels steep at this point
Its a short but powerful line
tool toe cam
moving after the "rest"
exiting onto the pillar
Finishes up on the U.M.P.
After climbing I rapped and left a top rope rigged on the U.M.P. (upper meadow pillar) for Laura to climb.  She tied in started climbing up the 35' pillar.  She was doing great up through the overlaps that the new ice has created, but the shower pouring down proved to be not worth the climb and she lowered off to avoid becoming completely saturated.  Here's a photo of Laura after on a few minutes on the start.

This photo speaks for itself
After drying out in the sun Laura took countless top rope burns enjoying the great ice.  Shortly after, we packed up and called it a day.  The sun was going down and the chill was setting in.  Despite feeling under the weather, Who could ask for more...  The climbing and weather were stellar.  All while being in the best of company.  So did the project go down?  Nope (1hang)  I hope I have enough weather to put this puppy to bed before the end of season.  If not, no big deal.  There's always next season and countless other project abound in SWPA.  I'm most thankful for such a great late season day.  Happy climbing!