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Ice-Out. January 31, 2013

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Temps in the 50’s and a heavy rain overnight have flushed the Deerfield clean of its frazil ice, as well as its shoreline shelf ice. All of it went over the dam at Shelburne Falls:

January Thaw

It’s looking a lot like a Spring thaw there; hope that wasn’t it!

As a side note, I had occasion to cross the Connecticut river this afternoon, and got a chance to wave “Buh-Bye” to said ice!  🙂

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Dark Horse Finals – Women’s Problem #1! January 28, 2013

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Here are a few shots from the Jan 19th Dark Horse Bouldering Finals, a climbing competition staged at the MetroRock Climbing Center in Everett, Massachusetts.

Some but not all of the amazing women who threw down during this exciting night of climbing theater!

Isabelle Faus:

Isabelle, Prob 1

Galina Parfenov:

Galina, Prob 1

Molly Gaynor:

Molly, Prob 1

Angie Payne:

Angie, Prob 1

Meagan Martin:

Meagan, Prob 1

…all moving like dancers on a vertical stage.

It was amazing to watch and photograph, even though I wasn’t happy with my take-home. I went two days early to scope out the venue, assure my shooting stances and determine which lens would work best – climbing gyms are reeeeeeally dusty environments, and changing lenses isn’t a great idea.

But when I showed up for the comp, most of the stances I’d been “given” were occupied by the video crew, as was the overhead access between stances. I was stuck in one spot, with a lens which only worked for one of the three problems.

Oh well. I got what I got.

More to follow.

Midnight, Saturday Night. January 20, 2013

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I spent a long day in the saddle this past Saturday, driving to Everett MA to photograph the finals of the Dark Horse Climbing Competition at the Metrorock Climbing Center.

The ride home was fueled by adrenaline and caffeine, both of which were at ebb tide as I rounded the bend a mile from home.

Then I noticed something a bit unique, and pulled over to photograph it for you:

_MG_7378

…precisely at midnight. It could only have been more Cosmic if I had just pulled into my driveway, but alas, I wasn’t there yet.

I considered trying to take another shot at 22mph, but given the precision of focusing and the need for a vibration-free exposure, I chose life.

Dark Horse Climbing Comp! December 19, 2012

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This past weekend I had the opportunity to photograph the Dark Horse Climbing Competition at Metrorock climbing gym in Everett, MA.

That was pretty cool – some of the best young climbers from around the country going mano a mano  for real prizes, and for the love of trying reealy  hard.  😉

The three finals problems were set up so the competitors couldn’t see more than one at a time. Unfortunately, that meant that neither could I! As the competitors started at five minute intervals, I ran my butt off to get these shots, especially because I like to photograph these things from above, which meant climbing down from a shot, running around the gym and climbing up somewhere else.

And despite growing a few new muscles in the process, I missed a lot of the action – bummer!

But then, that’s how it goes when one person tries to be in three places at once.

So here are a few of the early highlights culled from the 440+ shots I took, most of which have yet to be processed.

Isabelle Faus holds onto a whole lotta nada as she balances around the holdless corner on Problem #1:

Isabelle

Francesca Metcalf goes wide at the start of Problem #3:

Francesca

Meagan Martin defying gravity on Problem #2:

Meagan

…and Sébastien Lazure snags the improbable fly-by cross-over on Problem #3, launching from the light blue hold at lower left:

Sebastien

My shoulders hurt just looking at that one. 😉

I may have more to share soon, but meanwhile, congratulations to all of the participants for their amazing efforts!

Hangin’ Wit Da Boyz. December 9, 2012

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So this past week I spent a couple of days hangin’ wit da boyz.

Literally.

Pete C and Pete W let me know that they were going back to Farley ledge to continue working on “Afterburner”,  a climb which had only seen two ascents to date. I went there a day ahead of time to do some tree work; a giant hemlock teased the route with a spray of dead branches, complicating both the climbing and the photography (though more so the latter.)

I spent four hours in the tree with a bow saw, and another hour cleaning up my cuttings, opening up the space of the climb to psychic simplicity and visual clarity, then came back to shoot when conditions were right for the climbers.

On the day of the Big Effort, I showed up a couple of hours ahead of time and hiked to the top of the cliff. Then I rappelled down, leaving a rope hanging. I got a rope up into the hemlock, and climbed said tree while attached to the rope hanging from the cliff. This allowed me to suspend myself between the rock and the tree and adjust both my height off the ground and my distance from the rock face.

The Petes showed up on schedule, and the action commenced.

I was suspended well above it:

_MG_5472

…and positioned to get the shots I’d envisioned.

Unfortunately, it was about the same time of day as my previous effort to document the proceedings, and the light was similarly harsh.  I worked it hard in Photoshop, and got these suboptimal results.

Pete Ward snagging the third ascent of “Afterburner:”

_MG_5482

_MG_5483

This was a wicked cool effort. It was a bone-chilling day, and everyone’s fingertips were insensate. Imagine doing something this physically near your limit while you can’t feel your hands!

Anyway, congratulations, Pete, on a spectacular effort.

The day ended with a visit to the Spring Boulders, where Pete C was working out the subtleties on what will be a benchmark New England boulder problem. It’s left of the classic Speed of Life,  and somewhat harder and much more consequential if one falls, so Pete was checking it out on top-rope. Pete W threatened to step on my face for photographing it, but hey, I just shoot what I see:

_MG_5547

Around the corner, Jonah Meyer sent “Party Wolf:”

Jonah on Party Wolf

This is a committing problem requiring buttloads of body tension, a posse of attentive spotters and a number of pads to be done safely.

Jonah had all of that, and made it look pretty reasonable.

Yeah, right.  😉

Nice job, man.  I sweated just watching from a distance!

Workin’ It. November 30, 2012

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Pete Ward working a sport route in Western Massachusetts:

…on a bitchin’ cold day. Pete W and Pete C got shut down by thin moves and frigid fingers, but will be back on a warmer day to have their way with it.

With a day of prep work, I’ll have a better angle on this action, and pictures to prove it. 😉

This post may get expanded as I process more of the photos from yesterday’s shoot.

Rising Waters. November 1, 2012

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Our recent storm has brought river levels up, and on a recent soirée I happened upon a pod of kayakers on the West Branch of the Deerfield river, up in Reasdboro, VT. Here are a few shots I took, zipping my car around, u-turns up the wazoo, scrambling up and down the river banks in the rain and hanging off the occasional bridge.

The river is small and technical, meaning that if you mess up you may well survive, but with cuts and bruises, a belly-full of water and a banged up boat:

It’s not that the amount of water won’t make you wish you’d gotten the line right:

…a “swim” here would be ugly.

But getting it right on a “technical” river of this size is a study in elegance:

…a flowing vignette in a too-often staccato life.

My favorite shot of the encounter is this panning shot of a kayaker threading the needle between a “strainer” and a hard place:

That’s 1/30th of a second at ISO 2000. Getting the forward deck sharp despite the tumult of motion was gratifying, and I love the energy of the shot, which brings back memories of being in a boat and dealing with the kinetics of the moment.

As much as I miss that, I’m even more excited to be working on capturing it from the outside.

More Comp Pics. October 18, 2012

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Here are a few more shots from the September WMCC Rendez-vous Bouldering Competition at Central Rock in Hadley, MA.

It was a very active night:

…with people dangling from every possible (or impossible!) surface:

This woman was stronger than dirt, I tell ya.

The participants largely ranged from young to younger. People I would call “kids,” no disrespect intended ( I once was one) threw moves which made this old dust-farter wince:

My ruined shoulders can no longer do this without causing further damage, which I’ve sadly resolved to avoid.

But this was a night for The Unbroken to shine, and they did.

Here’s some of what I saw.

Determination:

Tenacity:

…and power,  of both the XX and XY sort:

You’re welcome.  😉

It was a night of movement:

…intention:

…and the Art of the Static Cling:

… all attributes which will serve these people well going forward, both those who maintain their connection to climbing and those who move on to other arenas.

I’m reluctant to admit that I’m only about half way through the images I captured on this night, but I’ll probably spare you another blog post (unless you ask for it. I know this is outside of most people’s experience, even though it’s been central to my life, and don’t want to beat you about the head and shoulders with my passions.)

Besides, Autumn is fast fading, and I want to get more of that posted before it’s irrelevant.

And then there’s the coming Age of Frost…  😉

A Wild Climb In Erving! October 6, 2012

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I had an opportunity this past Friday to “hang out” with a couple of strong Western Massachusetts climbers who were working on a hard route at Farley Ledge in Erving.

Their project was Blood Meridian,  a “hard 13b.” I put the grade in parentheses because in my world, all  13b’s are hard!  😆

Anyway, I spent FOREVER wrestling two packs up a steep, slimy gully, one pack of ropes and gear and one filled with my camera stuff, then rappelled down into position only to find my friend Josh already hanging out below the crux, or hardest section of the route.

Dang!  I’d missed two thirds of his effort, and wasn’t situated properly to capture the rest of it! And to make matters worse, I hadn’t found my box of proper ascending gear and was working with a totally jury-rigged system, which frankly sucked, so I was stuck where I was for the time being.

“Life is hard,” they say, “but it’s harder when you’re stupid.”

So I busted out my kit and began shooting, paying for my lack of preparation with some serious physical discomfort and a lot of unnecessary work.

Josh was milking a knee-bar for a no-hands rest, greatly appreciated after the stiff challenge of the route’s start:

I think this clowning around may have been just what was needed to break the tension surrounding this attempt – the route has only seen two “lead” ascents since it was established a few years back, despite many attempts by strong climbers, and many attempts by Josh himself. And conditions were sub-optimal, a bit damp after the previous night’s rain, so I’m not sure these guys had real high expectations.

But as these things are wont to go, something clicked on this day, and after a good rest Josh launched into The Business – thin face climbing through the overhanging bulge above:

This was a spectacular bit of climbing, involving throwing a foot way  overhead and rocking onto it using crappy handholds. I wasn’t positioned properly to really get the shots I wanted, but at least I got something:

Another clipped bolt and a couple more moves ended in an amazed  whoop! as Josh Surette sent the third ascent of Blood Meridian!

A smiling Josh lowered off, a little bit wide-eyed at what had just happened, and planning his celebration even before he hit the ground.

I boxed my camera and began the gut-wrenching contortions of ascending my rope with my half-assed system of crappy ascenders and short slings, swearing at myself and vowing to find that damned box of gear I was missing. I wanted to be slightly higher and closer in for Pete’s go at this beautiful climb.

After pulling the rope and swapping ends, Pete smoothed the difficult starting sequence, a super-pumpy mix of crack and face climbing up overhanging rock:

…then floated up the steep corner above:

…and after a rest, which may not have been long enough, threw himself into the crux sequence – the heel-hook:

…the rock-over:

…and then suddenly he was airborne, a victim of the tiny holds and a vicious pump still lingering from the moves below.

It was a great effort, though, with pics to prove it.

The day ended with plans for a return bout, and I have no doubt Pete’s future efforts will be rewarded.

Meanwhile, Congrats, Josh!  🙂

A Climbing Competition. October 4, 2012

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Last weekend saw the Fourth Annual WMCC Rendezvous, a gathering of local and visiting climbers for a little socializing, exploring and friendly competition.

The weather was wet, so most of the “competition” took place at Central Rock climbing gym in Hadley, MA. Big thanks to those folks for hosting this very busy weekend.

Friday night’s action was a “bouldering” comp, with people of all (well, most) ages pulling down. The routes were steep:

…up artificial rock walls with bolt-on holds:

There was an enthusiastic crowd of spectators and supporters mingling below, and a great atmosphere:

People took it seriously enough to work hard – young kids:

…contortionists:

Apes, which I confess is my tribe:

…and Ballerinas, to quote the late, great Scottish climber, Tom Patey:

Sharply focused spiders:

…and relentless machines:

…plugging along on the undersides of the bouldering cave. That’s some brutish terrain, but it’s not limited to the boys – strong women can play here as well:

…and they did. Great efforts, everyone!

In the end, it was less about “winning” and more about trying for one’s personal best. A lot of yardsticks got moved forward because of the competitive yet totally supportive atmosphere.

And it was great to watch the improbable being made to look easy.

…and the look of competence in a person’s eyes as they latch that final hold:

This shoot was a mix of Ollie and Gizmo, a bit too mixed up to go into. Let’s just say that my sensor needed a cleaning after all of those lens changes in a chalky environment. 😆