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