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Posts Tagged ‘Outdoors’

I’m not getting out to climb often enough to improve these days, but I am amazed how well at once a month I am maintaining. I do some training on the hangboard, door frames, and pull-up bar. We climb in the morning at a South facing local crag. We were 75% of the time in the shade since the Sun had not come around the corner. Of the four climbs we did two of the climbs that we did were positive slopes with minute holds, almost friction climbing. Three were sport climbs (having bolts to clip into, for the uninitiated), and one was a mixed route (meaning it had bolts (2) and needed gear placed (in this case cams)). There was a 5.8, a 5.9, and two 5.10’s. I flashed one of the 5.10’s. I enjoyed the mixed lead most and have some pictures of my climbing partner and me leading it. The day was surprising pleasant for a summer day in the South. There were occasional cool breezes and random small clouds and some shade. The insects were slight, the other climbers out of earshot, the skies exceptionally blue, no injury, and several clean (no falls) topouts. Our conversation was pleasant, and I believe God glorifying, and my mind was cleared. Such nice days make the harder ones more manageable. It is good to set aside and commit such days to the One who “gives to His beloved even in his sleep.” (Psalm 127:2)

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Lead on a mixed 5.8

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Partner entering the crux sequence.

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I live in the present for a number of reasons. I like adventure, even if ever so small, so I seek out new experiences. I have never been able to attach times with events; I have a friend who can name the year, month, and frequently which day an event happened. I have discovered, save a few rare jewels, that few people want to hear about what happened long ago. But today at lunch a definite opening to the past came about and I related a story and asked my colleague to relate a similar experience, “What was the most interesting night you have ever spent backpacking?” She related that it was the first and last time she ever saw a porcupine. Part of her adventure was a lack of understanding at the time of how quills work, that is, how porcupines use them for defense.

I told of a night when it was snowing hard, large wet flakes at dusk and we were looking for an opening with a flat spot for our tent. We came down to a road where a man was checking his mailbox. My friends got into a conversation with him about the weather and camping sites. He offered his barn loft and we jumped at it. The loft smelled of hay but there was none other than a dusting on the floor. We swept the loft so we could start our cook stoves without burning the barn down. Svea stoves sound like small jet engines, so it drown out the windy storm for awhile. Candlelight caste eerie shapes and shadows on the rafters and slats. I took several time exposures with my film SLR. We told stories, read abit and lay down to a long winter’s slumber. It was a pleasant place to sleep not having the tent flapping in the breeze. The next morning it was in the upper teens. My wet boots had frozen overnight and were painful to put on and to walk. I am sure that  up on Whitetop Mtn. there were significant drifts, but there was dry snow here, too. I feel like I have experienced a small taste of what life used to be like when I have done things like sleeping in a barn. Of course, our forebearers didn’t have nylon sleeping bags and packs, or pre-packaged food or white gas stoves or SLR cameras, but they did live simply and sleep hard on occasions.

Telling this memory reminded me of other memorable nights in the woods. Once with another friend we spent the night in a forest of young, straight trees. It was hard to hang our packs with no branches within throwing distance of our cord, so we hung our packs between two small, understory trees with the bottoms of our packs hanging barely above our reach. It had been a very wet day and now set in for a foggy night. We may have napped an hour in our tent when we heard pack rattling noises. Our flashlights revealed three large cubs, perhaps even yearlings, taking turns climbing one of the small trees and jumping out to swipe at the packs. We had left the pockets unzipped so that any mice that managed the climb would simply enter rather than chew holes in our packs. This detail meant that the cubs’ swipes were effective at knocking out our granola and snack bars and meat packets, and so forth. Before they had done much damage to our food supplies or torn open any stuff sacks we were out of our tent yelling and banging tree trunks with sticks, to which they scurried into the rhododendron out of sight. After several exchanges of this kind we could see that they thought it was a wonderful game, but we were becoming more leery at the thought of mother bear being just out of sight ready to attack if our admonitions were not to her liking. Wearily and warily we decided that there was no help for it other than to start a fire under the packs to keep the cubs away and mother hidden from sight. It was the hardest fire I have ever started. My friend collected every potentially dry twig and leaf possible, from under rocks and under logs and in tree hollows. There was only relatively less wet; dry did not exist. With a little of our toilet paper, some white gas from our stove, many minute twigs and needles we somehow got a fire going, but keeping it going and drying wood in the smokey fire was just as hard. Walking most of the day with a pack on requires two things: lots of food and good sleep. We were not getting much of the latter. We took two hour shifts of keeping the fire going and sleeping in the tent. Some time during the wee hours the fog lifted to reveal a moonless, starlit, branch filled sky. It was perhaps the first time that I realized that the sky begins to lighten as early as 3 AM in the summer. What is not perceivable to the eye around light pollution is a wondrous sight to the dark adjusted pupil. We didn’t see the cubs again and can’t say with any assurance that mom was anywhere around, but our packs smelled of smoke for a long time after that.  

Another memorable night I spent on Camp Town Bald, which I think was renamed Viking Mountain. There are few fire towers left in the mountains and probably none used for their original purpose, but one of the larger ones stood on top of the Bald in the late ’70’s- I estimate 80+ feet tall. My most frequent backpacking partner and I camped at the base of it in the tall grass. After dark I mounted the tower to the deck above. The glassed in portion was locked so a sat down, curled up in my sleeping bag, leaning against the wall of the enclosed space. I had a wonderful time of prayer and singing hymns as I gazed over the lights in the valley and the stars above. I began to see flashes of lightning in the far distance, so I moved around to the other side of the cat-walk in order to watch the fireworks. Above the trees and over 5000′ elevation, I could see the storm many miles away. Now that I reflect on it, it was odd that the storm was coming from the East over the mountains moving toward me. Thunderstorms rarely come from that direction. The storm kept building in my direction until I figured that perching atop a metal tower in a thunderstorm was probably not the safest vantage point. Having such a grand view of it I feel sure that I abandoned my post in plenty of safe time, but my friend down below had been getting worried. This story doesn’t make for quite as interesting telling or hearing, but if you can envision the scene with its three kinds of lights and the opportunity to worship the Creator of all that is light and life and beauty, you may imagine the depth of peace and joy the situation brought to me.

For it is this same Creator who has saved me and given me purpose and a future with Him. He commands the thunderstorm and the snowstorm, sets the stars in their places, gives man shelter and provides all that he needs, grows the trees and provides for the bear cubs, and will extend to you grace also if you will acknowledge your sin and His Son’s work to put it away. Glory to God for His goodness and His benefits to those upon whom His grace abounds.

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Odd shaped trees make for hazardous felling.

So, I climbed a few feet up on a ladder and took out some limbs. Then I was on the ground taking down the snagged limbs. I had to cross a barbed wire fence to get to some of the limbs. Several of the trees needed pulled by truck and rope. One twisted and the stump end jumped toward me. I had noticed when the tree began to move that it was twisting, so I stepped back two steps. When it landed at my feet I jumped back again. Even small trees are due respect since they outweigh me many times over, are much taller, and fall in surprising ways. Oh, you can read that it will fall funny, but not always the exact path. I cut Sweetgum, Willow Oak, Eastern Redcedar, Black Cherry, and Maple. The trees ranged in size from 6 inches to 2 feet- small to medium.  It was to help out a friend’s mother. My friend helped cut downed trees and pull with the truck and two of his daughters hauled brush and loaded firewood for him and for me. Everyone worked hard and everyone was safe, including, as best I know, not getting poison ivy that was thick on several of the trees. And did I mention that I got paid.

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That’s what I need to take it to the next level- local endurance. “Local endurance is a muscle group’s ability to sustain effort over a period of time.”

I was climbing on Sunday, the second time in a comeback attempt after an injury. My finger strength is good- no real decline there. I can crimp on half finger pads, but I have maybe 12 to 15 feet of crimping and I’m done for 15 minutes. After flashing a 10a I’d never been on, my partner and I set-up a 10d on top rope. I knew that I needed to climb fast to make it through the 25 feet of sustained 10d climbing. I was just past it making the next somewhat easier move when the strength drained out of me. I reached for the next hold just above the directional quickdraw we had placed. My fingers would not grip. I came down and my right middle finger went right through the gate of the carabiner, stripping a half inch of flesh off adjacent to the nail. Had I grabbed for the quickdraw? No, the injury would have been much worse. My extended finger meant I only peeled some flesh rather than broken a finger or skewered my hand. Instead, my finger should be good in a week or so. I’m not a free bleeder, so after a momentary spirt of blood, and a shake out (hands above my head to prevent further bleeding), I finished the route without much difficulty. But how frustrating, to be one move away from completing the climb and getting shutdown. My overall strength is sufficient for higher grade climbing, I just need this local endurance. So here are two websites that describe training for this deficiency:

Learn to Train: Local Endurance for Climbers

Training: Maximize Your Endurance

I hope to increase endurance through these workouts. I am always having to balance responsibility, desire, time pressure, enjoyment, higher priorities, and relaxation. I like to play hard and rest well. I am thankful to God that I still can, but wonder with my most recent injury if that will be possible much longer. I wasn’t doing anything extreme or foolish. I just strained connective tissue from midway down my leg to around the knee. For a time running and climbing stopped and even walking any significant amount. As they say, things just don’t heal like they used to. Both life and climbing are challenging and take strength. 

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I rock climbed at Crowder’s Mountain for the first time today. My partner said it is “also known as” (aka) ‘Crowded Mountain’. It was that. We had to park on private property where a donation was requested about a 1/4 mile away. Most of the people on the approach seemed to be there for hiking and viewing rather than climbing. Though we saw many climbers, we did not have to change what climb we wanted to do or wait once. I had heard some voices at the top of the climbing area. It turns out that the 5.10a climb I was doing had a lip at the top, almost like a banister for the flat spot on top. When I popped up over the top at least 20 young people were lounging on the ground and rocks. One young woman was sitting on the anchors. I said, “Excuse me.” She moved and said, “I’m sorry.” The whole group was staring at me silently, so I said, “Oh, is there an easier way up?” Most laughed, but one limited English-language lady began to explain and point to where the trail came up. I listened politely, shook my head approvingly, and walked away.

It was foggy when we first arrived and the rock was not totally dry. The rock is very different from where I usually climb in the High Country. There were alternating layers of metamorphic rock: hard, iron rich layers and chossy, mica-rich, weak layers. Odd shaped nubs, jugs, and cavities were everywhere at the interface of the two layers. We climbed 30 foot 5.7 and 5.8 for warm-up on the back side of Finger Wall, then a 5.8 and 5.9 (though we both agreed it was much easier) on the back of David’s Castle. Then we climbed a sustained 5.10a on the Practice Wall, followed by an attempt at Burn Crack (5.10c) It lived up to its name, overhung and intense for the first half. Both of us are coming off of injury and neither of us finished it. I was pleased to have done so well after 5 weeks off of climbing from a knee injury. The ability to begin again is a blessing from God.

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The Finger (Wall) Crack

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Standing in the Gap

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Transition from chimneying to layback crack

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A pleasant view

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With my partner at the top

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The Piedmont and the Charlotte skyline

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Feeling It

On MLK Day I went bouldering at Rumbling Bald with a large group of 20 and early 30 somethings, 6 guys and 2 gals. I’m used to this scenario since climbers approaching 60 are not common. I seemed to be off to a good start, warming up and climbing a V3 in the first hour. It was in the mid-20’s temperature but with the full sunlight and copious clothing it was not a problem. The hardest issue to overcome in winter bouldering is cold rock, not cold air. If it is early or shady or a stiff breeze, the rock is cold, and my fingers don’t function well. After the warm-up, Trailside Boulder, three of us moved on to another area to try out easier climbs while the bulk of the group went to project a V10, Pilfer. We tried out some new rock to me, and I started having trouble. I climbed a few V2’s and V1’s but couldn’t even complete another V3. I should be sending V4’s and challenging V5’s, but not today. We regathered with part of the group who were cruising V6’s and 7’s. One diminutive (in size, not ability or intensity) girl was working a V5. I alternated with her having a go at it. We were shut down at the same move, but for qualitatively different reasons. She had reach issues but she was so controlled and fluid. I was stabbing at the holds and began waning in endurance and ability to retry. Our little group of three moved off to the Bart Simpson Boulder. I think that is a ridiculous name and propose ‘Shark Attack’ as an alternate. The other girl in the group suggested the name ‘Narwhal’, which I could go with. After doing Marge (V1), I watched my partners do it, too. Then I set up to do Bart, a V3, probably so rated because to the top-out. I threw my left leg up to complete the mantle; my foot cramped. I lowered my foot, stretched it out, and put it back up. I started the mantle; I struggled to get over center. I lowered my body to give a more concerted effort. When I put pressure on my hamstring something audibly popped on my left shin, migrating like a flash up to and around just below my knee. I groaned and came off. My climbing partner and fellow teacher knew me well enough to know that I don’t verbalize often. I lay writhing in pain on the pad. Would I be able to walk? Had I destroyed my knee? Was if muscular, tendon, ligament? After much rubbing and feeling around I tried to stand. Amazingly my knee was not collapsing, but it sure hurt. My partner later admitted that he was trying to figure out how to carry me out. It took some time but I could hobble. Even more amazing was that I actually climbed some more later, my partner picking a problem that involved almost no left leg involvement, Basketball Mantle (V3).

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Watching my partner, C., get back into climbing after some time off. Wish I could climb so well off the couch.

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Watchers rather than Spotters

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J. is concentrating rather than posing for the picture.

James on Pilfer3

J. on Pilfer, V10, is what all of the effort is about.

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D. making the first move on Basketball Mantle (V3) look easy

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V1? right of Basketball Mantle

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You have to palm the Basketball and throw a high right smear of both arm and leg to mantle this V3.

Now I sit at home, thankful for a snow day from school to pursue healing, blogging, and reading, and even more thankful that the pain is subsiding and the function returning. But healing doesn’t come as quickly as it once did, and for that reason I like to stay in shape, pursue good nutrition, and take calculated risks (most of the time).

Even with the injury and climbing frustration I enjoyed being out with other climbing enthusiasts, observing the beauty of God’s Creation: blue sky, warm sun, sleepy winter boulder field, ice calving off the cliff behind us, and even the natural incuts of holds and friction of a cold day at the boulder field. This transition of life has its difficult moments, but I am thankful to still be able to heal and try again another day. It will not always be that way, and that will be OK, too, since I look forward to a better transition.

Thanks to D. for the pictures, save hers, which I took.

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I know people that don’t know how to play and others who don’t how to work. I like the addition to the old saying by Maria Edge recorded in Wikipedia, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy; all play and no work makes Jack a mere toy.” Keep me far from both kinds of people, because for the one you will constantly have to pull their weight and the other will perpetually be a weight to your spirit. Upon reflection, however, I think that knowing how to work and knowing how to play are both learned. So perhaps I should feel sadness for someone who doesn’t know how to do either or both. And for my part, I have erred on too much of one or the other in times past. Not that I have the perfect balance now, but I find that when work is over done either by compulsion or by obsession, play is frequently the tonic. When the indulgence is too much play it loses its savor, because change of pace and relief from work are largely the reasons and pleasure in play.

Yesterday and today were examples of when I went after each one in its appointed time.

Yesterday I went bouldering. I had not been climbing in a month and wanted to go ever so much, but life gets in the way sometimes. I didn’t climb particularly well, which is to be expected when I don’t do it often. My climbing partner had not been for a longer time, but we both tried and celebrated our little successes. During a break we were sitting in the sunshine listening to water trickling over pebbles beneath the nearby boulder and admiring the large trees around us. It was probably below 40 degrees, but we were heavily clothed and the thin overcast did little to obscure the warmth of the sun. There was no breeze and we sat mostly in silence much of the time. Later I observed that I think that I needed the excuse of going climbing today to be allowed to sit in the woods and be quiet. I did enjoy climbing and succeeded at several problems; I enjoyed the conversation; most of all I enjoyed the winter woods in hibernation and the rest it gave to my soul.

Today I set aside for attacking the huge job of cleaning the leaves off of my three quarter acre lot, knowing full well that it was only a start that I was going to make and not a completion. Usually there is little reason to start this chore before the New Year because willow oaks are reluctant to shed their leaves. This year they came down several weeks earlier because a heavy, wet snow pulled them down as it sloughed off in the wind and warmth. I had previously blown some leaves away from the back of the house, so today I began by hauling 10 loads on my painter’s drop cloth. Next I climbed up on the roof and blew the gutters out with the leaf blower and did the same on my neighbor’s roof. Our growing season is long and grass frequently grows even through parts of winter. Leaves in high grass are very hard to get up. I mowed back and forth pushing the leaves in one direction. Periodically I stopped the mower and raked up leaves onto the drop cloth. I trimmed branches and cut down dead flowers and hauled downed branches. I surprised myself and finished the whole front yard and 30 feet away from the back of the house.

Why am I recording all of this work and play? Who cares and why would I care to remember? Well, my blog is more about me reflecting on life than having a following, though I hope that you may benefit from my musings and ramblings. I am reminding myself that I value working hard and playing hard and sleeping well, because I think these are right and good and I am thankful to have the strength to be able to. And when I pause to think about it, I hear the encouragement or admonition, depending on my frame of mind: “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (I Corinthians 10:31) I hope that I have and hope that you and I will in the New Year.

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Bright day, Boulder, and a Buckeye tree

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Reaching for the topout hold

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