Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Upper Meadow Project 2011

Winter is our favorite season here in the Laurel Highlands.  
Laura and I spent a wonderful snow filled day at Upper Meadow Run in Ohiopyle State Park.  It was my day to pick where I wanted to work out and Laura was my belayer.  I decided to spend a little time working on the project that was bolted last year.  After it was equipped I spent 2 or 3 days working on it, until the pillar fell and it went out of condition.  This season I've spent one day on it about a week ago, but didn't have much success.  It was like being on it for the first time again.  I had to refamiliarize myself with the moves, which was a workout in itself.

Here's the route description:  It begins with about 15' of ice and dry tool moves to the roof.  From the roof you work horizontal about 20' while moving up about 5' clipping as many bolts as you can along the way.  From there you exit out the cave onto the largest free standing ice pillar and climb it to the anchors at the trees.  Sounds easy enough...

I can't remember, but it takes either 6 or 7 draws and an optional ice screw.  All of the draws are now prehung, except for the first and last.  Its a pretty strenuous climb (at least for me) and has yet to see an ascent.  Todays session went much better than the last.  I managed to link the line together in about 3 goes and felt better now knowing most of the moves.  Laura did a great job keeping me moving while on the route.  She was giving me the encouragement only she knows how.  While resting between goes, the large falling snowflakes made for an incredible view.  The landscape turned white and fresh throughout the day which was a nice contrast to what started out as a drab and overcast day.  Sorry "butt" our climbing shots weren't that good since it was just the two of us today.  You'll have to be amused by what we did get.  Happy climbing!

checking out the view
Eyes closed flipping a tool around?  Not good sending technique.
Starting out into the upside down
in the middle somewhere
Exiting and happy to be on ice... 
L  found these critters crawling around the ice
Laura killing time between laps
Laura standing beside the pillar that the route finishes on

Laura walking back to the car after our fun day!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Recent activity

Recent searching led us to this interesting looking line.
Fun days ahead!  The crack moving left after the ice appears to be
solid and should take gear all the way to the top.  Is it possible
 to have too many projects?
We've been climbing a good bit.  Several days with Ray Burnsworth A.K.A. Wildfilm Productions.  He's been shooting some incredible footage on several recent outings.  Should be seeing some really cool stuff from him soon.  He's been really psyched and working hard to highlight the climbing offered here in SWPA.  I've been continuing work on several projects while Laura has been getting on the sharp end more.   We've discovered a great way to help one another accomplish personal climbing goals.    We've been alternating "personal days" which is a day that is only focused on one person's training or goals.  That way the belay slave gets a rest day for their "personal day" to follow.  Some days are hard and some are easy, but most of all we've been pushing each other to climb stronger and smiling while being miserable and sore.

So far it's been a good season despite the couple warm ups that caused some serious damage.  Things are finally getting back to normal at the smaller crags.  Water is seeping and the flows are forming nicely and getting fat.  The Big Climbs are in a state of funk that is challenging to say the least.  Most of them are very aerated and spooky.  Currently they're formed like early season climbs, which is expectedly hollow and difficult to protect.  Amplify that with exposure to near 50 degree temperatures (two near melt outs),  its made things WILD to say the least.  This weekend when it rapidly dropped to zero from above freezing things became almost no fun at all. Notice that I said almost.  Looking back it was fun.  Its not everyday that we get the chance to climb such scary stuff.  Might as well enjoy it while we can!  After all... this is climbing in SWPA, make the most you can out of nothing.

Saturday 1/22/2011
Some nice folks we met from VA last weekend decided to return to PA to sample some more ice.   We met them at Lower Meadow Run to show them around.  We led Hemlock with an icicle start.  It's barely touching down, but with some gentle climbing it supported us up to the better ice and eventually solid rock gear.  Fred from Exkursion was there with some friends that were new to ice.  They were climbing away and having a great day.  The weather was sunny and made the chilly day feel very comfortable.  By afternoon the ice was soft and everyone was spent.  We joined the VA folks for dinner at NY Pizza and Pasta after climbing.  They spent the night at The Melody Motor Lodge in Connellsville.   Many visiting climbers seem to enjoy staying here.  Rooms are warm and reasonable, breakfast is right next door at Ed's and climbing is only minutes away.  What more could you ask for?

Sunday 1/23/2011
The temperature hovered just above zero which quickly chilled our hands and feet.  With poor conditions and cold temps, Laura and I jumped on the Infinite WI5.   I climbed about 1/2 of it and lowered off to rewarm my frozen hands.  I went up a second time reaching a reasonable high point where I could safely lower off.   Conditions were not favorable for pushing too hard.  Our friends from VA were in town again.  They made an attempt of Called on account of Security WI4.  They made it to the center pillar and made the decision to call it quits and top rope the lower portion.  Maybe next weekend things will be looking up.  Unfortunately the left wall isn't showing much hope.  The new additions Mad Rocket WI5+ and Double A WI6 are far from being "IN".  On a positive note The Beast WI5+ is making an appearance for the 2nd year in a row.  Currently it's about the most promising looking line on the left wall.

On approach, the first view

Galen belaying Sean on Called on Account of Security WI4

Tuesday 1/25/2011
 Today it was Laura's day and she chose to go to Lower Meadow Run.  She's recently made a clean go of Season Finale M6.  She's been after it a for quite a while now.  After a few tries this season she did it with no falls.  She wanted to try it again and I wanted to try out  the new pocket camera I purchased for shooting seconds coming up.  I'd like to get away from lugging a body/lens combo up routes.  I've not been very pleased with any pocket camera I've tried so far.  This time I'm trying the NIKON S8100.  The size is nice.  Its small and light, reasonably fast and cheap (almost disposable). Seemed worth a try.  Here are a few of the images we shot today.  Not bad for a point and shoot.

Supporting the park we frequent
checking Laura's screw placements
Pulling over the crux bulge
Look out guys, Laura shows how its done
For any taker who want the novelty of climbing
Cucumber Falls WI2+.  This is as "IN" as I've seen
 it in years.  Go get it while its still up!  P.S. Don't expect gear

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Light and toasty,.. The Lowa Mountain Expert boot review

Putting the Lowa Mountain Expert to the test

Over the years I've tried many boots, starting with leathers, upgrading to plastics then moving back into leather during the lightweight leather craze of the late 90's and now well into the 2000's.  Lightweight leather boots now seem to be the choice of most new climbers.   During the Early 2000's  the boots of my choice were the LaSportiva Trangos of various models, and the Sportiva Nepals of various models.  One common thing I noticed about all the boots were that my feet always seemed to be cold.  In 2008 after many miserable frozen toe days (even with toe heaters) I decided it was time to change.  Was it possible that my LaSportiva boots had a death grip on my toes that was keeping them from being warm and cozy?  I didn't want to think it possible, but had to try.  Since I mostly climbed in the Sportiva Trango's I figured I'd do some research and see what I could find that closely matched that boot.   I had good luck with the Lowa Civetta Exteme plastics years ago and thought why not see what Lowa had to offer in a mixed climbing boot.  I checked their lineup and ordered up a pair of the Ice Expert GTX boots.  The Ice Expert GTX (currently unavailable) was a Silver and Green leather and hybrid boot sporting an ankle gasket similar to the Trangos.  First point is that the Lowas are less expensive.  Reatil of about $350.00 compared to the $400.00 of the La Sportiva.  The insulation used in the Lowa boots is 200g of Primaloft and a kick ass radiant footbed.  I ordered both a US men's size 11.5 and 12.  After trying  them on I decided to go with the 12 which was a 1/2 size upgrade from my "normal" street shoe size.   First thing I noticed when I pulled them on was how much WIDER the toe area is in the Lowa boots.  Much more wiggle room then the cramped Sportiva.  I was very pleased with the fit out of the box.  My only problem was that I had a little heel lift.  I ended up placing a partial memory foam footbed liner under the heel to take up the space and solve the problem.   I used these boots for 2 seasons often questioning as to whether I should've went with the 11.5.  I think being gun shy of having tight boots again prompted the 1/2 size upgrade.  After 2 seasons of heavy use the only issues were with a broken lace lock which was easily remedied with some Gorilla Glue and ripped velcro on the ankle gasket.   Despite these minor issues, I was very satisfied with the boots and my warm toes.  Who could believe that the tight toebox was the cause of so many days of cold toes.

Moving ahead... This season Laura wanted to get a pair of lighter boots.  She was wearing women's LaSportiva Nepal EVO's.  Hearing me praise my Lowa's so many times I convinced her to try the Lowa women's Mountain Expert GTX which is the replacement boot for my beloved Ice Expert GTX.  right out of the box she praised the fit.  She too was having problems with cold feet in her Nepal EVO's   She's climbed in her new Lowa's a dozen days so far this season and is amazed how much warmer her toes are after the switch.

After checking out Laura's NEW boots, I am fairly certain that its basically the same boot as the Ice Expert without the ankle gasket and with a cool new tongue stud to keep it in the center of your ankle.  Which was great to see.  I thought the gasket wasn't of the best design and was often irritated by the tongue sliding around to the outside of my foot.  I REALLY liked the design of her new boots.  After careful thought and questioning my previous 1/2 size upgrade, I decided I NEEDED some.  I again ordered 11.5 and 12.  After we picked them up from Fred's, I went straight for the 11.5.  Bingo this was it.  Perfect fit.  I've been climbing in them a couple weeks now and have been very pleased with the fit and performance so far.  Virtually the same as the Ice Expert with improvements.

  • No gasket
  • Lace locks redesigned into a less breakable design
  • The tongue stud gizmo

Ice Expert GTX and the Mountain Expert GTX, very similar

Lowa's tongue stud keeps the tongue centered, works great!
So if you're looking for a high quality, light weight, ice/mixed climbing boot, don't overlook the seldom seen Lowa Mountain Expert GTX.  Its a top performer that offers great ankle mobility, approaches well, stiff enough for pure ice and still light enough to throw above your head like a pretzel if the urge arises. I'd also like to add that for additional warmth on cold days Laura and I both use shake and bake style toe heaters to boost the boots cold weather performance.

Since were talking feet,  I thought it also be good to discuss that I currently use Petzl Darts and Darwin crampons on these boots with the Leverlock heel spur rears (with the spurs mostly chopped) I've found this rear provides a much more solid fit than the standard quick adjust heel piece.  This combo provides a more snug fit with minimal crampon movement and is lighter weight on the Lowas.  I usually get several fronts worth of use out of the heels and its cheaper to pay $130.00 for dart or dartwin fronts for use on old rears, than to pay full price for new crampons.  See the photos below

Modified heel spurs, still functional but less to catch the rope and
 invert you in a fall. Plus the bolt to linking bar system makes a perfectly
 flat platform for your boots heel to sit on (less crampon heel
movement on your boot)
Old rears, new fronts = $130.00 new darts

NOTE:  I have no affiliation with Lowa boots.  I get nothing in return for writing this review.  I just thought I'd pass on a little learned knowledge that might be useful to other folks with wide toes looking for a warm mixed boot!  Hope this helps someone.

I'd also like to say your welcome to all who've benefited from my expensive boot experiments and purchased my like new, ill fitting boots, for next to nothing.  Happy climbing!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Still climbable...

Well Laura and I tried to climb yesterday, but unfortunately the rain and warm weather took its toll on the area.  We got skunked on our attempt.  Dr. Bob and Chip were also optimistic.  My phone rang as we rolled into the lot.  It was Bob wishing happy new years and telling me he and Chip thought they'd at least drive out to try to climb.  Well Laura and I went to take a look here's what we found...

Still there, the rebuild should be fast
Well Dr. Bob and Chip were more optimistic than us.  We left and they took a walk down to check things out up close.  As per their description "Deep muck led to the ice".  They made the (wise) decision not to climb.  That was yesterday...
Today... 1/3/2011

Laura and I decided to take advantage of what the warm weather had done (opened up some winter roads).  We decided to drive to Krahlick to see how the ice weathered through the storm.  I had hiked in several weeks ago to check it out. Its not the same angle, but it gives you an idea.  It's still reasonably good.

Krahlick 12/21/2010
Krahlick 1/3/2011
Laura had never been to this location, so it was nice to get her there.  Its not that big, roughly 40' tall. Several routes put up by Ray Burnsworth back in the late '80's currently exist.  The largest center piece is Wilderness Bound WI4 and the shorter tiered section to the right is Wilderness Found WI3+.  There's potentially a nice mixed line that follows the smear on the left of W.B.  and pulls through the rock roof and finishes on the short face above.  I tried the route in 2000 but didn't have much luck at the time as it was late in the season.  It wasn't until this year that I returned to check it out again.  This time I found a nicer smear to gain access to the roof.  I put a TR on it again today to try to suss the moves and see if it would take gear.  After 2 tries on the route and no pre inspection.  I was climbing very slow and static the first time and ended up popping out of a flared crack at the lip of the roof.  The second go I moved much quicker and more dynamic making the larger ledge above the roof, but ended up having my dull pick pop during the mantle.  I was optimistic that I'd found a good "gear" route, but upon some inspection I found the rock to be loose and blocky.  I could climb it on gear and make it a dangerous route that nobody will ever try or add a bolt or 2 and make it a much safer line that others will enjoy as well.  Bummer there's only bad gear, but its like most of the other routes in the area.  Short, chossy, and FUN!  Here's a few shots of me on the route.

Going from ice to rock

Moving through the roof...

Should be a good route in the near future....  Keep posted!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year; keeping the tradition alive.

Nothing like 45 and raining for New Years Day ice climbing...
Happy 2011 everyone.  Its been a tradition of mine to climb on New Years day for 15 years now.  It started on January 1, 1997 with original ice climbing partners, Matt Johns and Scott Richards.  It was the beginning of our 2nd year of ice climbing.  We decided to "start the year off right" by climbing.  We set our ambitions high and decided to try for the first ascent of a 2 pitch route in a local active quarry.  The day went great despite a few "minor" incidents.  I led the first pitch and Scott led the 2nd.  It went successful and we ended up naming the route New Years Revolution WI4+.  It was quite an accomplishment for us at the time.  We used by today's standards archaic tools and gear.  No speed cranks on screws, Snargs, original Footfangs, Black Prophets, North Face lobster mitts, etc.  Little did I know that day was the start of a tradition that I still uphold.  A year or so later, Matt moved from PA to KY.  He's found great climbing life at the mega popular Red River Gorge.  He and I remain great friends to the day.  We don't get to climb together as much as we'd like, but that makes the time that we share on the rope that much better.  He occasionally visits to climb ice in the winter and boulder in the warmer months.  Scott moved across country to Wenatchee, Washington to pursue an outdoor lifestyle there.  Tragically he died in a kayaking accident on Icicle Creek shortly after his move there.   I had no idea we'd never climb together again.  Life is different from the old days, but still the tradition continues and each New Years Day I think back to how it all began and am thankful for how much fun I have and all the great friends I've made climbing here in PA.

Starting up the first ascent of NYR 4+ first pitch 1997

Scott Richards on Pitch 2

Enjoying New Years 1997
Today was no exception.  It almost didn't happen.  Despite an incredible start to the 2010/11 ice season, New Years Day and several days leading up to it, were warmer than normal.  When Laura and I left the house the first time, it was 50 degrees and raining.  Still we were determined to climb.  We drove to Ohiopyle to climb only to have some serious downpour happening at the parking lot.  We turned tail and drove home deciding not to climb in the rains.  We went home and hung out for a few hours and as luck would have it, the rains stopped and we decided to pack back up and make the return drive to the cliffs.  It was raining a lot less, but still raining.  We decided to "climb" anyhow.  Laura got some new boots to try and was itching to put them to use.
L's new kicks, Lowa Mountain Expert GTX
  We rigged the main flow and Season Finale on top rope.  We each ran a few laps with some older CF Cobras that Fred from Exkursion lent to Laura to mess with.  It was the most fun we've had on 25' of seriously wet ice.  What a fun day, no ground breaking accomplishments, just a lot of fun climbing with my incredible partner, Laura.  Here's a few pictures from the day.
Fred's tools and a tool happy to be outside for the new year

The warm temps sent the start to my project down.
It about crushed our heads.  Get it L! 

Happy 2011!  from "US"

Laura bringing in the new year on the deteriorating ice
Tomorrow the temps are supposed to drop below freezing and the 10 day is looking very promising.  Next weekend we should be out at it again with vastly improved conditions.  Hope everyone had as much fun this New Years day as we did!