The Disabled List and Gear Concerns

When I decided to take a climbing road trip, I began thinking of myself as an semi-professional athlete. Such a thought is not entirely off the mark; while I'm not earning any money (I'm nowhere near a sufficiently good climber to do so), it is effectively my "job". I spend each day going out and climbing in an effort to improve. During my time at home before the trip I tried to act as an athlete, stretching more regularly, icing my sore fingers and hip, reading about performance measures, and tracking my climbing output. Now, for the first time, I'm on the disabled list.

To be entirely honest, I lost some of the performance focus while on the road. It's hard to ice sore joints when you lack refrigeration. And while I stretch on bouldering days, when I only climb for 5-6 hours, it's much more difficult to do on trad climbing days. On those days I typically climb from 9-7; it's too cold to stretch before 9 and gets dark (and cold) by 8. But I still think the disabled list analogy applies, since I can't do my job due to an injury. I strained a flexor tendon in my left ring finger on Kill by Number, a roof boulder problem in Joe's Valley, UT. I'm not entirely certain how the strain happened--I made a big throw with my right hand, missed the hold, and fell to the ground. My best guess is that upon missing the right hand hold, my left hand over-squeezed its hold and full body weight on that squeeze strained the tendon.

The strain is relatively mild, and I am rehabbing it at my parents' house in Santa Fe. In many ways, it occurred at a good time, since I spent a few days hiking in Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks (pictures soon, and strong recommendations for both but especially Zion), and then came home to Santa Fe for a break. My current rehab program consists mostly of rest, though it also includes two sets of Lewis reaction (cold vasodilation) icing each day. I also apply light stresses on the finger using a 1-gallon milk jug, which has been slowly filled over the last week as the finger grows stronger.

A major topic of distraction away from my finger during my time in Santa Fe has been a recent report of climbing gear failure. An Alien, a model of spring-loaded camming device made by CCH (a very small company located in Wyoming) broke when loaded during a fall. Not surprisingly this makes many climbers nervous, as we rely on such gear in life-critical situations regularly.

CCH is an "old-school" company, meaning it is a small garage operation rather than the modern corporation that many climbing companies have become. They developed a wonderful design, but lack many modern production methods. As a result, the product looks much less polished than other gear, and for most of the company's lifetime it lacked the same type of quality control larger companies have. This is a throwback to climbing companies thirty or forty years ago, when quality control was minimal because climbing was an extremely niche sport, and many climbers actually made their own gear or had friends who did so. However, with modern climbing gyms and sport climbing, the sport has grown to encompass a much large section of society. Climbing companies have responded by becoming modern corporations with strict quality control to avoid lawsuits and angry customers. Two years ago Alien cams suffered a few failures due to quality control which was nowhere near the industry standard. CCH responded slowly, but eventually claimed to improve quality control with inspection and strength testing of all their camming units. I purchased several Aliens last fall, under the assumption that the new testing procedures guaranteed the strength of the tested and stamped Aliens.

The most recent failure, however, occurred on an Alien with a date stamp of 3/07, well past the date when testing was implemented. As a result, I am now suspicious of the quality of my own Aliens, and have been working to test them myself. On Sunday, my father and I went to an abandoned parking lot and pulled on them with my car. We used his car as an anchor and then using webbing, cord, carabiners, and a tow rope set up a pull with my car. I had hoped to break the cord, which should have broken around 600 lbs. of force, but ended up pulling my father's car instead (we had it in gear and with the emergency break on, so it provided at least a reasonable resistance). This is very promising though I don't want to trust the pieces until I put them through a shock load using a steel cable and a hammer (because of the very low energy absorption by the steel cable, it is possible to produce significant forces in this manner).

It is an interesting experience to be thinking about gear as something that I, myself, am responsible to test. We live in an increasingly consumer society where we expect things to work reliably (especially in life-critical applications), and when they don't we simply return them for functional units. In this case, I do not have any knowledge that the products are defective, but given the dire consequences of failure, it would be negligent not to test them myself. So I feel like I've stepped back in time to the 1960s climbing scene, or the 1980s punk scene, both of which had a strong do-it-yourself ethic. I like doing these things myself, and have enjoyed considering and debating how to apply appropriate pull tests. I hope that I will not have to purchase replacement cams (an expensive proposition), but will investigate that possibility in the near future.


Picture Update

Apologies to those of you who worried because I didn't update this for a while. Life has been hectic (even on a road trip!), with time visiting friends and climbing. I'm working on some themed blog posts, but none of them are yet ready to see print, so instead, here's a bit of a photo update. See the Picasa Web Gallery for more pictures.

The Bridger Jacks, iconic landmarks of Indian Creek and the backdrop to my campsite for a week

Me on my first clean Indian Creek lead, an unnamed 5.8

Marci styling Power Play, 5.11

North Six-Shooter, a beautiful desert tower

Snow in Joshua Tree!! The next morning, it was back to normal.

Justin atop Geronimo, 5.7

Cactus blooming in the Nevada desert



Leaving the comfort and familiar climbing of Joshua Tree, while difficult, was the right decision. A combination of geology and route developers leads to certain similarities throughout individual climbing areas; to improve, it is important to experience climbing in many different locales which stress different skills. Before rushing off to a new climbing locale, however, a break was in order. The wedding of Matthew Reese and Samantha Bench, two friends from Lloyd house at Caltech, provided a wonderful excuse to take a short break. However, their wedding would be in Estes Park the following weekend; to avoid driving two long days in a row, I decided to spend a few days bouldering in Joe’s Valley, near Price, UT.

I arrived at the boulders mid-morning Wednesday. For those of you following carefully, this means I drove Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday to get there; not exactly according to plan. I left Yucca Valley late Monday and spent Monday night with my friends Curtis and Jenny in Las Vegas. Then I left Las Vegas midday and spent Tuesday night at a trailhead in Utah. On the drive back to the interstate, I had the good fortune to see a bald eagle sitting on tree. Trying not to disturb it I slowed, but not early enough. It and two others took flight; they are beautiful, and large, birds.

I once read an article in a climbing magazine comparing Joe’s Valley to Hueco Tanks, the prelude to this trip and an area considered to have some of the best bouldering in the world. Luckily, it is centrally located between Joshua Tree and Estes Park, so I had an opportunity to explore it a bit and report back. I won’t make any judgments regarding the comparison to Hueco Tanks, but it certainly is a wonderful area. The rocks are a very well-sorted, small-grained sandstone, leading to a very smooth texture that was a perfect break after the very sharp Joshua Tree monzonitic granite. The problems were often relatively short, and conveniently located right next to the road, in a sort of linear bouldering corridor. This results in driving between the distinct boulder clumps, but short approaches on foot, a unique structure for a bouldering area. It seems to spread people over a larger area and make it seem more deserted, which is a nice break from the crowds often associated with bouldering.

I spent two relaxing days at Joe’s Valley, climbing the first day with Tucker, a North Carolina native recently transplanted to Colorado, and the second day alone. I didn’t climb anything very hard, but it was nice to do slightly more dynamic climbing with low fall danger. I am much more willing to throw for a hold when I’m three feet off the ground and have a foam pad beneath me than when I’m 40 feet up and would fall on a piece I placed myself. As a result, bouldering often involves much larger moves and moves that might involve literally throwing oneself up the rock; this type of freedom is very appealing, and it involves a distinct set of skills from the much more controlled, static climbing I tend to do while leading on a rope. Balancing the amount of bouldering and roped climbing on this trip will probably become a significant challenge, and is yet another topic I will try to write about in the future.

On Friday morning, I drove up the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park towards Estes Park. Along the way I had the good luck to see The Diamond, the East face of Long’s Peak and one of the jewels of American climbing. A big wall at alpine altitude, it is an incredibly committing undertaking and, as a result, a real accomplishment. Gear started turning, but I’m not certain if I will have an opportunity to climb it this trip.


As a 27-year-old, I have become accustomed to attending the weddings of friends. It seems I go to one or two every year; however, this one would be different. Matthew and Sam had rented out a massive cabin at the YMCA in Estes Park, where everyone would be staying together. It was a wonderful idea, and I believe gets to the core of the idea behind a wedding; celebrating the union of two people by gather their friends and families, those support structures which have helped sustain them individually and will continue to do so as a married couple. The only problem was that may of us attended Caltech together. And, as a result, whenever we get together we seem to need to deprive ourselves of sleep by staying up far later than we ought. Despite (or possibly because of) that, it was an incredibly fun weekend; I saw many of my friends from undergrad, including several with whom I had lost touch. My friend Stephen Shepherd performed the ceremony, and it was the first wedding I ever attended in which neurobiology composed a significant portion of the minister’s comments (Stephen, I still need a copy). And we partied the night away with a fire outside, games inside, and the best company one could ask for (and, of course, a few beverages).

The weekend nearly even contained some climbing. A woman who I knew briefly at Caltech, Celeste Yang, had learned to climb in grad school and was very jealous of my opportunity to spend several months climbing. We spent a good deal of effort to find out about climbing near Estes Park that would be sufficiently warm and dry in the high elevation and cool temperatures; we searched the internet, went into the gear store in town, and even copied topos at the library. Unfortunately, several inches of snow on Saturday led to the cancellation of that plan. As a consolation prize, however, we went sledding on Saturday evening and snowshoeing up to Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park on Sunday. It was wonderful to reconnect with her, and we made tentative plans to climb in Yosemite in a couple of weeks.

Finally, I spent Monday and Tuesday with my cousin Paul and his family in Denver. It was fun to get to know his wife Tamara and rambunctious boys, Colby and Dalton, better. I took care of several errands, such as getting an oil change for my car and going grocery shopping. Tuesday afternoon I left for Moab, site of Indian Creek and incredible splitter sandstone climbing. I saw six big-horned sheep on the side of I-70, yet another in a growing list of wildlife seen on this trip. Wednesday morning I met Dima to begin my tutelage on the fine art of pure crack climbing, but that is another story.

Note: I am a bit behind on picture processing, so will try to post more next time; see the Picassaweb album for what I have up.


Exit Joshua Tree (for now)

I’m one month into the trip and off today for Utah and will leave there for Estes Park for the weekend of March 10, where I’ll attend the wedding of a couple of Caltech friends. Leaving Joshua Tree was a sentimental occasion for me; I started climbing here, and this was the first major stop on this trip. I took a quick detour this morning to look at the first pitch of rock I ever climbed (pictures to be posted in the near future). I didn’t have an opportunity to lead it this trip, but I would like to do so next time I return to the park. Over the last couple of weeks the park has become home, a safe place that I could grow as a climber and learned a great deal about being an itinerant climber: climbing when I have a partner and resting when I don’t; tricks for approaching climbing partners in a way that improves the chances they will say yes (offering a beer first often helps); sitting around camp or going for a hike during the quiet times; finding free stuff and free food whenever possible. A couple of weeks ago, I was worried this trip might not work out; now, I’m looking forward to the next destination. For a goodbye gift, a roadrunner crossed the road in front of my car as I exited the park; I had never seen a roadrunner here before, but it was quite a treat. If Angela or Justin want, I would be happy to return.

The climbing out here the last couple of weeks has been fantastic. I haven’t always had a partner when desired, but more often than not something has worked out. Last weekend, Sean showed up from LA and his partner bailed, so we climbed all weekend, one day around camp and the other in the Joshua Tree backcountry. This week, I traded Luke days, belaying him on a day when he wanted to climb 10 5.10s, in exchange for his belaying me on Thursday. And Saturday Stewart just wanted to get out so we went to the warmer Indian Cove area and traded belays (after Kevin just showed up and wanted to climb, then bailed twenty minutes later). Yesterday we bouldered in the afternoon after feasting on the bounty left by a group that leads trips for kids and had way too much food.

Many of the memorable parts of the last two weeks include: seeing a bobcat (no picture, unfortunately), stabbing my thigh with a cholla cactus, the arrival of the blue jays in Josh, helping Luke complete his 10 10s goal, leading my first Joshua Tree 5.8, and spending a morning relaxing at the hot springs. Writing out a report similar to the last few would take a bit too long, so I’ll just whet your appetite with those flavor bursts. I wanted to add some thoughts I’ve been working on about anticipation to this post, but I haven’t been able to tie them together yet; I’ll try to post those sometime later this week or early next. In the meantime, enjoy a few more photos. Also check out Alistair's Joshua Tree photos (click on Joshua Tree 1-4) for some more professional work by someone I met out here.

Mental Physics, a splitter 5.7+ in the Joshua Tree "backcountry"

The moon nearing full in Joshua Tree

The blue jays started showing up this week, and were interested in Stewart's pot

Another beautiful Josh day


Turning Point

I'm a climber again! For those of you who didn't speak to me on Monday, last weekend frustrated me significantly. I had no luck finding partners for trad climbing, and I took two rather awkward falls off a bouldering problem I had done several years ago. I was beginning to wonder if I could really do this; if I would be able to find partners and really improve my climbing, or if I would be stuck spending most days solo, trying easy boulder problems and hiking. While I enjoy hiking and easy boulder problems, it wasn't what I had planned for this trip.

Upon returning to camp Monday night, I found a group next to my campsite setting making dinner by the light of headlamps. After setting up my tent, I wandered over and offered the use of my propane lantern, a much more significant light source. And so I met Stuart, Alistair, Valerie, and Luke. Stuart was off to try Leave it to Beaver, a rather difficult climb at Josh, the next day and Alistair would be filming it. Stuart offered to give me a belay after he finished his project the next day, since Alistair and Valerie would be working on some easy stuff as well.

Stuart sent Beaver the next morning, certainly impressing me. Afterwards, Alistair and Valerie started Fote Hog, a 2-pitch 5.6, and Stuart and I headed over to Locomotion Rock, the site of a number of moderate cracks. Leaping Lena, the best regarded route on the rock wasn't free, but Hhecht, another 5.6, was. It drizzled a few drops, but I started up, and the bottom of the climb went well; good hand jams and relatively featured surroundings made for easy climbing. As I progressed up the climb, however, it became extremely flaring; nearly an offwidth at the front but perfect hands at the back. I couldn't find decent feet on the face, and couldn't find good foot jams in the offwidth. I could stand still with both right hand and right foot reaching back to the good hands at the back of the crack, but couldn't move from that stance. I plugged some good gear and struggled up, making sounds that I'm sure were something like "hhecht" as I groveled through the crack. I took a small fall, but kept pushing myself, groveling through to the perfect hands at the top of the climb. About this point the sky opened, with hail falling softly through the desert air.

The afternoon involved no more climbing, as the hail increased and soaked the rocks. But I was ecstatic. I had gotten on the sharp end, pushed myself through something that felt awkward and scared me, and, though I couldn't claim it as a clean climb, gotten myself to the top of the rock without any serious injury. Rising to meet the challenge had made me feel competent and in control again.
Hail on my car's windshield

Boulders soaked by the hail

That night was a quiet one with an early bedtime. The next day I went out to Indian Cove with Etan, a guy I had met online, and his partner for the day Bob. We toproped a number of pitches and had a good day. The following day Etan and I climbed and each led a couple of pitches. Nothing real hard, but I was really climbing. Maybe this road trip thing will work out after all.

Etan at the top of Rainy Day Women

I used President's Day as an excuse for a rest weekend in LA, staying with my friend Marisa from high school. I got together with my former climbing partner Chris on Friday, and we wandered around an old climbing haunt and he showed me his now house. Sunday, my friend Rick, his wife Noelle, and his 2-and-a- half-year-old Corbin and I went climbing at Stoney Point, just like old times (except for the addition of Corbin--pictures coming soon). And I caught up a bit on email and my television viewing, a nice little treat. I'll head off tomorrow morning to meet a new partner for another good day of climbing.

I'm very interested by the emotional progression that I went through over the last week. On Sunday I was safe, doing a hike that I knew I could do easily without significant risk. But it was facing difficulty, even if it was something that shouldn't have been all that difficult, that I felt good. For reasons surpassing my understanding, I would rather struggle up an awkward crack while it starts to hail than do almost anything else. I was hoping to explore this a bit in this blog entry, but it's time for bed. I'll try to write more about it in the future.


A few photos

Joshua Tree, CA

I didn't get around to putting together a great writeup for today, so I'll just post some images and give a brief synopsis. I'm not certain how many more of the in-depth day-by-day posts I'll do, as I may do more themed posts about thoughts I'm having along the way. We'll see how the writing goes.

I made it to Joshua Tree Friday evening, and it felt like a homecoming. I remembered the coarseness of the rock and the weird structures. Very comfortable. Unfortunately, all weekend long I had bad luck finding partners for trad climbing, so I spent some time bouldering and did some hiking. A couple of awkward bouldering falls spooked me a bit, but hopefully my boldness won't be too long in returning. A long hike Sunday afternoon brought me to a beautiful little alcove surrounded by rocks at least 50' high. A great place to sit and meditate.

I hope to do more trad climbing over the next few days, and will spend the President's Day weekend in LA avoiding the crowds. More posts then.

A scorpion at the rest area near Queen Creek, AZ

First Joshua Tree Sunrise

An interesting rock formation

Dawn on Gunsmoke Traverse, V3


And so it begins

I’m on the road! My emotions were an explosive brew of excitement, anticipation, fear, and sorrow as I left home for Queen Creek, AZ. I had been living with my parents for a few months since I finished my Master’s degree and decided my next step would be a road trip. Since I knew rent would be free and it was a safe place after a difficult spring and summer, Santa Fe seemed like the logical place to prepare for the road trip. But now that the road trip was happening, it seemed far more like leaving home for college than I expected. Home had quickly become a safe place again, and I had lost the knack for being on my own. I think it must always be difficult to leave a safe place and step out onto uncertain ground, whether you be an 18-year old leaving for college or a post-Master’s student heading out on a road trip. But this was the adventure I had planned for and dreamt about, so I headed off at midday on Monday, February 5.

The start of the drive was easy, leaving New Mexico on the wide-open freeways of the west. I had AM radio to keep me company, and listened to music as that faded away. I misjudged the distance from the freeway to my camp area, however, and the drive through the Arizona mountain country found me with low blood sugar and a sinking attitude. To keep myself company I threw a CD of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods into the stereo. This story of Bryson’s attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail helped my mood immensely, as I recognized much of myself in his fear of bears and desire for companionship on the trail. As he and Steven Katz arrived in Shenandoah National Park of Virginia, I pulled into the Oak Flat campground, tired but happy.

I woke to find a beautiful, warm morning and an almost empty campground. Since the campground was almost empty, and the few people here were either seniors or local campers, I had no one to climb with. And since I had a general Arizona guidebook that showed only roped climbing in the area, I was in trouble. I had been counting on a few people being around to get on a rope or show me the boulders, but I seemed to be alone as a climber. A trek into town found a library with internet access, and thus an online guide to the bouldering in the area. Returning that afternoon to camp, I discovered the presence of two javelina,
Slightly blurry photo of one of the javelina

which I initially thought to be a wild pig. The sight of something so unlikely definitely made my day! They didn't like me getting too close, but I followed them for a little while to get a few pictures.

After some stretching and getting all my gear together, I wandered out to the boulders, decidedly glad that I had not tried to find them myself since it took me about 30 minutes with the map. The bouldering was fun, although I had to quit quickly as it was late when I arrived and I wanted to get back to camp while it was still light enough to pitch a tent and make dinner. A pretty sunset, a couple of rabbit sightings (Cree would be jealous), and some photo work led me to bed.
The hills surrounding Oak Flats

Jeff arrived promptly at 9 the next morning, and brought in tow a bouncy medium-sized dog, Casey. Luckily I was ready, having eaten and packed when they arrived, though it was closer than I planned. The night had been cold, and I wished I had taken more precautions to keep warm; since the previous night had been so warm, I figured it would be fine. As a result I started the morning slowly, not wanting to get out of my relatively warm sleeping bag.
We made our introductions and talked a bit about the day, deciding to go to The Pancake House where I could get in a number of pitches around 5.7-5.8 and work on getting back my lead head; since he hasn’t been climbing much lately, he would be happy on the same routes. We headed out, and as we wandered along the four wheel drive road, Casey lost her wariness of me and came to me asking for attention; I believe it did my soul some good to have her along. Throughout the day we talked quite a bit about dogs, and I found myself missing Cree and even Lobo immensely. The companionship that a dog gives is unlike anything else, and I really would like to get one once I am settled in whatever comes next.

The Pancake House is a small assortment of sub-vertical sport climbs on volcanic tuff. Pockets that were formed due to inclusions of more soluble material or air during tuff formation provide most of the holds used in this area. This provides some unique hold possibilities, when you use one pocket for a thumb and another for a few fingers (almost like a bowling ball) and results in using the same pockets as footholds, which involves a lot of stress on one’s toes. We spent the first part of the morning climbing a couple of sevens and an eight, then decided to set up a top rope on a 5.11. Since the rope is always above in this situation, the climber is more free to take chances with only a minimal fall as a possible result. It was a good challenge, and I rose to it, falling only a couple of times. After lunch I got back on it and sent it without weighting the rope a single time. This gave me some real confidence, and if I keep working at it, I should be able to lead this type of route before too long. We ended the afternoon early, as my feet were really hurting from my climbing shoes and Jeff’s bulging disk was acting up. So we packed up around three and headed back to the camp for a couple of beers and a small fire, until Jeff needed to leave for home. It was nice and relaxing to just spend some time hanging out and talking around the campfire.

Thursday I let myself sleep in until it was warm, then spent a while stretching. For the afternoon I went back out to Oak Flats to do some bouldering, trying to find an area called The Maze. Unfortunately, as before, the directions were poor. After more than an hour of wandering, I had not climbed a single boulder, or found a hint of the area I was looking for. About then I decided that I would head to Joshua Tree on Friday, a rest day, after I was finished with internet and other rest day activities. Oak Flats bouldering had given me sufficient frustration to drive me away. The search for the boulders did give me some time to think, and I spent some good time sitting on my pad gazing into the horizon and wondering about my future, which I need to do a great deal on this trip. So the wander wasn’t a total loss. I did eventually find my way to the Atlantis bouldering area and do some neat pocketed problems there, and made many attempts on Flake Orgasm, a V2 on big flakes, without success. But it got late fast, and I headed in to dinner and then into town to call my Dad and wish him a Happy Birthday.

Which brings me to today. I packed up camp quickly this morning, came into town, and have enjoyed a nice hot shower and internet access, catching up on the world outside.. I’ll head to Joshua Tree tonight.



I'm planning to spend the next five or six months climbing. So I've been preparing for my trip: I purchased a fair bit of new climbing gear, and replaced all the nylon I had bought more than four years ago (Todd Skinner, a world-class climber, recently died due to a broken belay loop, reminding climbers to replace their nylon); I removed the rear seats from my car and put in a platform to sleep on; I bought health insurance and got electronic bill payments set up so that I could pay my bills on the road. However, I wasn't really ready when the chance came to go to Hueco Tanks with some climbing friends from Santa Fe. But it seemed like a good opportunity to test out a lot of my road trip systems in relatively benign environs, and with climbing partners I already knew. So on Monday, January 15, I bought $25 of food for the week, loaded up the car with everything I plan to take for many months of travel, and headed south on Interstate 25 with Wendy, a friend of a friend, as a passenger.


Hueco Tanks State Historic Site is located just outside of El Paso, TX. A granitic intrusion unearthed by erosion, it has the locally unique feature of giant huecos (hollows) which retain water for weeks after a rainstorm. In the desert of Southern Texas, it provided a water source for plants and animals, Native Americans, and eventually European settlers. The park contains a massive collection of pictographs from the various Native American groups which have called the park a home over the last 2000 years; many of these same tribes consider Hueco Tanks sacred ground today.

The same inclusions that led to the creation of the large, water-holding huecos also created many smaller pockets in the area's boulders. Modern rock climbers have found these as ideal holds for hard, overhung routes and boulder problems. Access to Hueco Tanks was restricted for both climbers and other users in the 1990s due to overuse ruining both the fragile plant life and ancient pictographs. These restrictions include a ban on bolting inside the park (meaning that most modern climbing there is purely bouldering), guide access only to three of the four mountainous regions, and limits on the number of people allowed in the park at any time. Despite these restrictions, it remains a mecca for boulderers of all levels, with thousands of boulder problems to choose from.

We arrived at Hueco Tanks at 6:20 on Monday evening; unfortunately, the road closed at 6, so we had to drive off and spend a night at the nearby Hueco Rock Ranch, a campground targeted at the climbers that flock to the area. Upon stepping out of my car, an icy wind bit at my bare arms. After changing into warmer clothes and a fast dinner of Ramen, I settled into my car to sleep before 7:30. It was my first test of my platform system, and it passed, although some improvements remain to be made.

The next morning we entered the park and met Marci and Zach, friends from the Santa Fe climbing gym. The morning was cold, but we headed out to try some bouldering. I wore long underwear and an extra fleece layer, far warmer than a typical bouldering day for me, even when I lived in New England. But we were at Hueco, so we had to climb. The warm-ups hurt, my fingers aching from holding onto the cold rock and my toes from being compressed into tight climbing shoes. My new down booties (a birthday gift from my parents) helped my toes, but this was definitely not the nice warm Texas weather I had planned on. We spent the rest of the day at a few climbing spots working on overhung, large handhold problems. I particularly enjoyed Nobody Here Gets Out Alive, a V2 (see here and here for an explanation of climbing grades and the translation of bouldering grades on the V scale) that starts out as a roof on big holds and then transitions to a slab with decent-sized holds. The roof requires a lot of heel- and toe-hooking, using one's foot to hold you into the rock rather than just holding one's weight. I worked this problem for a little while and found a sequence that could get me through the roof, but pulling onto the slab eluded me. Zach gave a good try at See Spot Run, a steep face climb involving small holds and a tall boulder; he gave it a good go, but fell off over halfway up.

Although the afternoon warmed up a bit, I never took off my fleece or even wanted to; after such a cold day, we decided to go into town for a warm dinner and a cold beer. That night, I discovered my first big road trip lesson: heated restrooms are your friend. By about 6:30, it was getting too cold to hang outside, so I went to the restroom to brush my teeth and planned to crash. In the restroom, however, a couple of French-speaking climbers had set up a portable DVD player with a climbing movie. I brushed my teeth, combed my hair, and watched for about 45 minutes, laughing along with the French speakers and getting myself thoroughly warm for the first time in many hours. It's the kind of experience a person can have only when he leaves the comforts of home and takes the chance of being cold.

The next day we took a guided climbing tour over to East Mountain. We were accompanied by three Swiss, two guides, a Tennesseean and and Albuquerquean. I found this day hard as we spent most of the day on severely-overhaning problems. My abdominals failed several times throughout the day, and by the end of the day I couldn't climb a couple of easy boulder problems because I was too sore. However, it was a bit warmer than Tuesday, and I had one good climb where I sent a V2 my first try, so the day wasn't an entire loss. I spent less time in the bathroom on a slightly nicer evening, but still crashed early.
Zach on Hobbit in a Blender

Fred on Dragonfly

Day three promised to be the best in terms of weather according to the forecast, but the morning found us all sore and tired. Two days in a row of powerful bouldering leaves one with a lack of skin on his fingertips, abdominal muscles that ache when he laughs, and forearms that can no longer open a water bottle. But, we had to leave the next day, which was looking terrible in terms of weather anyway, so we headed out to get in one last day of bouldering. First stop was the Mushroom Boulder for warmups and work on a thin, technical V2. To get rid of the soreness I stretched for a while longer than the others, and in the meantime Zach and Wendy started working on a left-facing rail, which I identified as Mushroom Tea, V4, in the guide. When I had finally finished stretching and warmed up, I joined them on it, and it felt good. It even felt like I might get it today. I decided to take a rest and watched Marci and Wendy work on Local Flakes, a steep face with very small holds. The cold made the small holds even more painful than normal, so they got tired of that rather quickly (I gave it a couple of tries myself, and it hurt).

Back on Mushroom Tea I gave a good try but had a rough time figuring out the top. Zach suggested I switch hands, and trying that from the middle of the route worked well. I sat down and relaxed, waiting to make sure I was fresh and focused when I tried to send the route. Marci worked on it a little while, eventually finding a drop-knee that worked for her at the top. Finally, I was ready. It wasn't the prettiest ascent ever, but it was the first time I ever sent V4 in a single day; something to be proud of.

The rest of the day was nice; I attempted Nobody Here Gets Out Alive many more times but still couldn't pull on to the slab; Zach put in a good try on See Spot Run and took a good fall. We decided to head back to Santa Fe that evening as the weather was calling for snow starting Thursday evening and calling it a "major impact event." I arrived home sore and tired, but happy after three days of fun climbing with good friends. And, even better, the promise of more once I finish up a few things in Santa Fe.