Sunday, January 22, 2012

Finally some real ice in South western Pennsylvania

The south western Pennsylvania woods are finally looking like winter

Laura and I decided to take our chances and head into Sunday School Crag to try and climb one of  the new lines I found last week.   It was a warmish 29° when we left the house and made our way up to the parking area.  Upon arrival it was 23° which made me feel more optimistic that the line would have held over the warmer days this past week.  
Parking area for Sunday School Crag
During our hike in to the climbs we were breaking through the crust that the recent ice storm left in its wake.  I knew this recent ice crusting might be of some concern on the lines we were going to try and attempt.  Sunday School Crag  is the most alpine like crags of south western PA.  

Coming out of the woods and into the crag
The temps are always colder, the wind is always howling and is usually downright uncomfortable.  The ice lines are a lot more committing than most other local crags, with traditional gear being involved in most ascents.  Most lines I've climbed here commonly involve some sort of barely held together limestone choss with varying thicknesses of verglas beteween sections of ice pillars and runnels.  In other words some seriously fun climbing that might make you stain your drawers and then smile about it after its done.

On the way in we scoped out some of the lines.  Here's a couple we want to try in the near future.

Laura below one of several unclimbed lines we eyed
One of the top options for the day!

Not sure if I should be excited or terrified for this one.
Either way its an incredible looking mixed climb that I want to try.

After checking all the other options, we headed to the long alpine looking corner route I found last week.  I was really hoping it was in.  I had thought about it all week and couldn't wait to get on it.  We rounded the corner and it came into view and was looking at least as good as it did last week.  I was afraid that the water might have started to wash it out from behind.  The temperatures must have been quite a bit colder here that at our house.  The climb had very little water running off of it and looked as if it were good to go.  The climbs to the right were running hard with water and were dropping some rather large chunks of ice.  

Standing near the bottom of our chosen climb

The climbs to right on this wall were running hard and dropping ice

We didn't waste much time.  I've never been on this line and had seen it for the first time last week.  I looked it over and scoped out a potential line and racked up accordingly.  Going ground up is always a little more exciting and I find over-racking is better than under.  The line looked a little boney so it was mostly 13cm screws.   I also racked some quick draws, a few runners, screamers, a half rack of nuts, and 3 cams.  Plus belay coat and gloves, belay device, thread tool, cordage, spare biners, a 22cm screw for a thread if necessary/possible.   I recently received a set of the new Petzl dry T rated picks (which is a whole other post in itself).  I'd been anxiously waiting to try them on an "ice" route.  I resisted the temptation to take them dry tooling and dull the hell out of them over the past couple of weeks.  Also new was a shiny pair of Grivel G4 crampons, complements of Rob "Griz" Ginieczki for helping with the second revision of Ice Climbing Pennsylvania (available for purchase soon).  All this new gear to try and on a new line,  How cool!  I'd used the previous versions of the Rambo's over the years and always liked their rigid frame for pure ice.  My last pair were hijacked by Laura (who likes them a lot as well) and I just hadn't replaced them when Griz surprised me with these.  Thanks again Griz.

Racked and excited to get on some real ice!
The climb was well... Awesome!  What a great first ice route of the season.  It went well.  The ice was mostly very thin.  There were plenty "eyelids" on the bulges from the ice storm as expected.  Lots of new ice and snow to be cleared as I ascended the runnels that flowed down the 200' cliff.  Even with a "soft" swing attitude today I still managed to put falcons beaks on both of my new picks.  They performed well and I can say that the new picks perform better on ice than the old Astro picks that I loved so much.   Now that I've used them on an ice route I can go out and trash them at will.  I have a few more sets coming my way.  I'm definately NOT a fan of the new washer design that has now made changing picks in the field a big pain in the ass.  Right up there with Grivel's three bolt system.  The crampons were sweet as expected!  Grivel has the rigid design and point configuration nailed.  The extra weight seems to help drive them into the ice with much more authority than the Petzl Darts I've become used to.

We named the line Late Bloomer.   We thought it a fitting name for our current season being the worst ice season in area history.  Climbing this line today almost made me forget how unproductive local ice has been this season.  I'm a little hesitant to grade the line.  I'm sure it'll be much easier during a normal season of cold, producing plentiful ice.  Today it felt like a commiting WI4+ in lean condition.  Protection was a little sparse and I would not recommend this climb for the budding WI4 leader.  What it lacked in vertical sections it made up for in sparse protection and lack of ice.  Here's the photos of us on the climb.

Starting up the line it got thin early on
Short thin pillars with a few mixed moves, very alpine feeling

I'm in the middle of the photo, Giving scale to the climb

Just another day in the Pennsylvania alpine
Laura moving over a lower angle snow/ice slab
Even enough ice for a V thread rap!

Laura is all smiles on this one!
Late Bloomer WI4+
South Western Pennsylvania
Is there more?  There's always more here in SWPA

The End!
So south western Pennsylvania ice season has officially begun for us.  Who knows if February will contain colder temps and provide us with more lines to try this year.  Hopefully it does.  Keep checking back for all our PA climbing nonsense.  With some luck we'll be able to send a few more of the new lines at this crag.  I hope everyone got as lucky as we did this weekend!  What a blast... cant wait to get back for more!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Tunnel Cliffs and Sunday School Crag conditions

Winter wonderland... for now
I woke up this morning feeling a little sore from my past several days efforts.  Needing a rest day, I decided to go check ice conditions high up on the ridge at the coldest areas in the region as well as get in some winter hiking and views.  I loaded a light pack with minimal gear.  Tools, crampons, extra gloves a puffy and the normal lid contents.  I brewed a pot of elixer for my thermos and set off up the mountain to Tunnel road.  The road was maintained part of the way making the driving easy.  From there on out to the top of NO DRIVE hill (parking area) the snowmobiles had it packed to reasonable passage.  I parked there and hiked down the 1.25 miles to the climbing.  It was looking pretty good, but I was surprised that the top outs were still looking very wet and boney. Here's a couple of shots...

Hard to believe this is Tunnel cliffs from the ice farming days circa 1999
I like the no maintenance of the new version...
but liked the natural non tiered version better
Here's the beta on the NEW Tunnel Cliffs.   I would suggest only using this area on Sundays and keeping a low profile.  Since this is the first year I've been back here in years and this one sucks, I'm not really sure of the potential here.  Its basically short benches (30'?) that can be climbed in short "pitches" or linked all together.  Its a great place that seeps continually from a natural spring and parts are in full shade.  It is one of the highest crags as far as elevation goes and comes in quicker than most other areas.  This should be a great location with lots of moderate climbing. I don't expect to be climbing here that often, so this is my effort to share with fellow ice climbers an area.  I would expect that it will become a good asset for both local and visiting climbers.  You can find Tunnel Cliffs in Griz's Ice climbing Pennsylvania guidebook.  It'll help get you there, but the routes are obviously different.  Unlike the old days of serious efforts required to "farm" ice and climb here, TC has now been transformed into an ice making machine that requires no maintenance.  Climbing at Tunnel back in those years was not a problem and could be accessed at any time.  Now given its current condition going on days other than Sunday may ruin it for all.  Please don't be "that climber" and lets keep this place climbable.  Thanks and enjoy!  I snapped a couple pics and left quickly as not trying to be the person I just mentioned.  I wanted to get a couple pics with it a little thicker than I've seen it thus far and to gauge what it takes for this place to come into shape to help y'all out.  I've always enjoyed the walk down into and out of Tunnel cliffs.  Its a long gradual hill that goes through some beautiful forest.  Its quickly contrasted by the new climbing area as you will see if you visit (some Sunday).  Keep this one on your hit list if leading WI3ish climbs is what your after.  Keep in mind if not leading that there's not much in the way of anchors (trees, etc) for easy top roped climbing.  In addition the ice may be hard to reach from the top and may not offer easy access for screw anchors either.

After my hike up out of Tunnel Cliffs I visited Sunday School Crag.  The conditions there look promising.  If the cold weather continues it'll be fat by next weekend.  If it warms up its going to be very unstable.  Unfortunately the forecast is calling for a warm up and rain.  I spent a couple hours walking around checking out the climbs enjoying our brief winter experience.  Here's what it looked like and a few random shots for your enjoyment.

60 meters of chossy alpine fun

South Park Wall
Near where New Years Revolution once stood.
Looks harder than WI4+ though.
It's waiting for us when you're ready Matt!
New Years Reunion WI?
Dumbfounded self portrait.  It was a wonderful 13°
and felt good in the sun
Pennsylvania Alpine?  Who remembers the approach?
Another 60meters of more strenuous fun.
Who's coming with me man?
There you have it the ice is looking better than it has yet, but has some building to be considered FAT.  Lets hope for some mercy on the warm fronts and colder temps hit the area with fury.  I know I'm ready to get some serious climbing done.  Mother nature has a different plan.  Hard to believe its 44° and raining now just hours later.  What a bitch!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sunday at Ohiopyle State park

Laura in non typical climbing clothes, imitating an old west gunfight?
Are you sure we're going climbing?
Last night it was a tough call whether to pack for big ice or mix climbing.  Laura and I are itching to get in some real local ice and were hoping to climb at SCII.  After a little discussion we decided that conditions would most likely not be favorable enough to climb.  So we packed up with mixed climbing in mind, leaving the sharp crampons and ice screws at home for a better day.  Ohiopyle State park would be our destination.  We were going to enjoy the results from yesterdays work.  I put in some time equipping a line that we've top roped before at Bruner Run.  Its a beautiful line up through overhangs and seams with some funky corner moves.  It'll involve spicy gear placements in between bolted blank sections.  The route overhangs about 15' in 55' of climbing.

Doing work son!
Steep, overhanging, mixed climbing
Figuring some moves, clearing some cracks, all in a days work!
The sign at the gate on Bruner Run Road.  If the gate is open drive to the crag
 at the bottom, otherwise its a steep walk down and back.
We set off to Bruner Run only to find the gate at the top of the road leading down to the river closed due to current icy conditions.  Bummed by the road closure Laura and decided to visit Lower Meadow Run instead and save the new line for another day.  Instead of heading straight to Lower Meadow, we decided to go check conditions at SCII to see how they faired after the several days of warm weather last week.  Upon arrival we found the summit to have quite a bit more snow blanketing the ground.  We booted up and hiked down to check it out.  Conditions are looking way better than I expected.  Here's a photo of what it looked like today.
Laura checking ice conditions dressed in
her Patagucci SCII camo edition softshell
Conditions looked better than I expected and some of the ice obviously made it through the last warm up.  If the temps stay cold at night things will most likely continue to improve.  For now the water is flowing nicely and there is still hope for some climbs this season.  After a quick look we hiked back to the car and made the drive back to Ohiopyle to climb at Lower Meadow.

We hiked back across the bridge and up the stream to the crag.  The icicles were hanging everywhere.  The Main Flow has touched down and is building quick, but will most likely not survive the week as have most of the ice lines.  The mixed lines are dripping, but climbable.  Caveman is running the most and will involve some serious wet misery if climbed.  Anger Management has some usable ice on it, but the finish is not in its thick icy state.  Usually this line is about a grade easier without the ice up there, but rules out any pro from the last bolt to the finish.  We decided to climb Season Finale a traditionally protected M6 R.  This climb is always spooky.  Its only about 35' long but packs quite a punch.  The minimal gear placements are in questionable rock with the only solid piece being 5' from the finish, after the crux.  The climb went well with a little mind management and some encouragement from Laura.  I thought I was coming off just after placing the last and best piece on the route.  I was getting pumped quick.  There was no fear of falling and being injured at this point, but there was the fear of having to repeat that piss poor protected crux again.  I hung on and made the last few burly moves to the anchors.  Here's some shots of me on the climb.

Making the most of the ice?
Getting a pice below the crux

Working through the crux
A little further to the anchors
 The ground shots don't do this route much justice.  What it lacks in height it makes up for in spice.  Most find the line to be much harder than expected.  Here's another perspective.  Laura cleaning the route.

Laura starting up
Laura hanging tough through the crux

Getting rough
Removing the last cam fried Laura and a hang was in order
A short rest had Laura cranking through the thin ice finish
It was a great climb and I'd highly recommend it to anyone thats solid at the grade and proficient at placing gear!  If you think its a little over your head and aren't ready to tie into the sharp end, don't feel left out.  Its an easy hike to the top and the ring anchors make it easy to rig this climb on top rope and provide hours of fun mixed climbing practice.

Unfamiliar with Ohiopyle climbing?  Get in touch... I'll provide the info you need to get climbing in this neck of the woods.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Cold temps and solo adventures

I have to admit when the forecast showed the temperatures dropping from 50°F down into the teens overnight I was a little skeptical.  I woke this morning to the thermometer displaying a healthy 16°.  Thats all the motivation I need... I loaded up my haul bag with a full kit for new routing (about a hundred pounds of gear for those that have never been involved in routing).  I'd rather be heading out to climb, but with the weak local climbing community and Laura at school daily, I guess solo stuff will start to be my norm.  Its taking a while to adjust from having a daily partner to being partnerless most of the time.  I guess this is the right winter to be partnerless as the ice still hasn't really made a good appearance.  I'm headed out to equip a new mixed line that will most likely only see an ascent or two due to the lack of climbers and abilities.  How sad!  Hopefully the cold weather will get the climbs formed up and bring a few climbers from outside the region to make climbing life better!  Don't get me wrong, there's a lot to climb but very few willing to get after it.  The story has been the same for years.  MOTIVATED CLIMBERS are NEEDED in SWPA!  Potential exists but climbers willing to do anything about it don't!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Weekend Summary

Something is up with this memory card, twisting up images
The summary of the weekend is easy.  Warm weather SUCKS for ice season and turf sticks!  Laura and I were motivated enough to try to find a little something to climb.  We took a drive to see if we could get on some of the better formed lines as of recent, but to little surprise it was a bust.  The ice took a severe beating with multiple 55°+ days.  Now the ground is thawed and things are back to square one.  Here's a photo of what we set off to climb today.

From almost good to almost gone!
Son of Beast was looking good a few short days ago
We left and headed for Rattlesnake rocks salvage the day and get in some dry tool groveling.  The woods felt like spring not winter.  The ground is no longer firm and has turned to muck.  My hopes for a serious winter season are hanging by a thread.   Blah, Blah, Blah, enough about our lack of cold... Our hike up to the rocks was pleasant with temps in the mid 30's.  We were excited to get on some climbs, hoping to get on or up something new.   We decided to warm up on the climb we had done the last time we were there.  Its about M5 or so and was a pure blast to climb, so seemed like a great place to start and clear the cobwebs.  The climb went well until I realized that the last time we climbed the line the ground was frozen and the rock has ice plastered in some of the cracks.  The climb today was nothing like the friendly M5 we had climbed last week.  This time the lovely, frozen turf and roots were merely unusable loose dirt.  The roots weren't frozen and a couple crucial small blocks that  were mortared into place by ice now wiggled unnervingly in their current location.  They were quite questionable indeed, but needed to support full weight as the wall doesn't offer much in the way of feet.  These moves came near the top at a distance out from my last gear that would land me quite close to the ground.   The blocks held and so did my nerves.  The fun, warmup climb turned into a different experience.  

Laura seconding our warm up and only climb of the day

Laura seconded the climb agreeing that the climb took on a little difficulty and upped the commitment level considerably.  We enjoyed a cup of coffee at the top and made our way to the bottom.  I decided to do a little dry tool bouldering across the blood wall.  I started out with everything going well.  Hooking, camming, steining I was like hercules making my way across, well not really, but I went to make a move left and my crampon got  a little stuck.  No big deal happens all the time.  A little jostle and ping out it came.  Thinking nothing of it I moved on making moves left.  All of a sudden I realized I had no front point.  

My dart became a DA. Time for some new ones.
I might have to try the new Grivel G20.
Watch for an upcoming review!
Shittttt!  I busted the front point off of my dart.  It must've been jammed a little tighter than I thought.  Low on morale and motivation, we decided that the broken crampon was the deciding factor.  Time to call it a day.

We set off to climb ice, got shut out.  Went to drytool, climbed a cool line again.  Broke a crampon and called it a day... Par for the season.   Maybe our luck will be better next time!  Happy climbing to all