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Hangin’ Wit Da Boyz. December 9, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Action/Adventure, climbing.
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So this past week I spent a couple of days hangin’ wit da boyz.


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:


…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:”



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:


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!

A Few Climbing Shots. August 18, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in climbing.
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From last weekend, at Farley Ledge in Erving, MA.

Matt smoothing the steep rock at the left end of the sport wall:

…and Zach throwing the moves on a taller piece of rock right of that:

I hadn’t come prepared for this shoot with quite the right lens; the whole forest is grown in with invasive vines, and my line of sight was reduced so as to make Gizmo almost useless. These shots really need context to evoke any emotion, and it was all I could do to get a whole person in the frame!

Anyway, they’re a bit of documentation of what’s happening in my world, and here they are.

Up A Tree. March 11, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature, climbing.
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I had the occasion to meet local arborist Bart B. recently, a man who not only cares for local trees, but also does canopy work and biological surveys in other parts of the world.  I thought what he does sounded interesting, and as I’ve lately been taking pictures of great trees from the ground up, I wondered aloud if I might join him for that top-down view sometime.

Several days and a few phone calls later we met in Amherst for an introductory climb.  Bart has everything necessary to outfit a curious person for an introduction to The Heights, and came with the whole shooting match:  a giant slingshot to lob a weight and string over a high branch, stout ropes to be hauled up and over, harnesses and ascenders and safety devices.

He picked out a big oak he’s worked in before:

…then shot a line over a high fork and set up the ropes.

It’s been a while since I worked with ropes, so it was a joy to be tying in and getting some air.  I got a brief intro to the gear used in tree work (which differs in some respects from what we use in the world of rock climbing,) then started up ahead of Bart:

It was tiring, as I’ve been sedentary over the winter, but satisfying.  I expected I’d be sore for a few subsequent days, but it was exhilarating doing the kind of back and core work necessitated by rope-ascending.

Once up about 70 feet I reset our anchors and broke out the camera as Bart came up to meet me:

The black dot up and right from Bart’s head is a hiker passing below us, just for scale.

These photos are nothing fancy; I was there primarily to make the connection and get introduced to the equipment and methods used in tree-work.  If I get invited back for more I’ll bring a selection of lenses and spend some real time setting things up for better shots.

Thanks to Bart B. for the time and effort it takes to get a Newbie up to speed!

A Boulder In Clarksburg. February 28, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in climbing.
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This is a big old rock up on a ridge above North Adams, actually just over the line into Clarksburg.  Jacob climbed a tree to get on top, then patiently brushed off as much snow as possible:

…Plenty of crash pads there for the efforts to come.

Half a dozen lines went that day, from moderate to hard.  This project will go from the sit-start:

…though the initial move didn’t quite happen.  Later, perhaps.  Jacob sent it from one move higher, and the true sit will happen soon enough.

The tall arete to the right went as well, much more easily than the previous problem:

That wasn’t apparent from looking at it, until Jacob was on it and making it look easy.

That man can climb!

Meanwhile, Back At The Ridge… February 24, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in climbing.
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Dakota sends the obvious line from a sit-start:

This was, in addition to Dakota’s excellent effort, a chance for me to do something different with Elliot.  I usually use his “tilt” function to extend my depth of field, as in landscapes where I keep a foreground element sharp while getting the whole scene in focus.  But here I’ve isolated the climber by dissolving the rest of the photo in a slurry of soft focus.  Having Elliot on a tripod allowed me to get the (more or less) same shot of the rock with Dakota moving through the image, with a plane of sharp focus laid diagonally from lower right to upper left.

It was odd to be an observer of this climbing excursion.  I’ve been a climber all my adult life, and still dabble as my broken body allows.  But on this day, I didn’t even bring my climbing shoes; I wanted to disengage from the physical and observe.

It was one of the hardest days I can remember.  I’m not a born “watcher;”  I lost my taste for television, for instance, decades ago.  But my damaged shoulders constrained my participation.  So while the climber in me paced like a caged beast,  the Outer Me snapped away.

I suppose I’ll have to get used to being an observer, but it still feels odd.


An Erratic. February 8, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in climbing.
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Somewhere along the ridgeline north of Route 2, a glacial erratic sits in a deciduous grove.  It’s pretty spectacular, given that it’s all alone out there, a chunk of pristine granite parked a bit above its schistose host stratum:

If you’re a climber/boulderer, there’s plenty to do there to justify the 20 minute approach. I expect half of the possibilities to crack the double digits, which will mean nothing to most of you, but everything to those who “boulder.”

This is the ideal time of year to go there; no bugs, the sodden approach is stiff as a mackerel, and no bugs.

Did I already say that?  Well, yeah.

Rooftopia. December 18, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in climbing.
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I spent part of this afternoon up at Rooftopia, a tumbling conflagration of stones and spaces hunkered down along the Deerfield river just over the Vermont line from me.

I’m enamored of this particular stone for its clean sweep of overhanging terrain, and just had to play with it for a bit:

It’s really out of my league, but I can dream, can’t I??   🙂

The vignetting in this photo is caused by my Cokin P-Holder, which really wasn’t made for full-frame wide lenses, but I’m in no position to upgrade to the 4X6 filters which would eliminate this problem.  Besides, I’m not all that displeased by the framing effect rendered by my technical incompetence.

I’d love to get a posse of strong climbers up here so I can let them play while I photograph the action.  It’s a beautiful spot, and I bet they’d enjoy themselves.

V8/10* at Farley Ledge. December 3, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in climbing.
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So my involvement with climbing has devolved into a voyeuristic thing:  I go where the action is and try to glom on to what used to so fully involve me.

At some level, it hurts.  This used to be my raison d’etre.  Now it’s something I observe in passing, like a sunset or a moonrise.  It’s not that it doesn’t matter, but rather that it doesn’t depend on my participation to exist.

Here’s some of what existed today at Farley Ledge in Erving, MA despite my non-participation.

Local man Kai setting up for the big throw on Babies With Rabies,  V10*:

…and here latching that distant hold:

*ed: I called this a V8 in the original posting, but it’s a strong two grades harder.  I should have known – small holds on rock this steep is reeeeally hard.

Most of you don’t boulder, so can’t be expected to relate to the point-of-contact strain revealed in these photos.  But I’ve been there/done that, and feel every fiber of my limbs trying to stick these moves.

Another problem being worked on this particular afternoon was Appetite For Destruction,  a V8 just down the hill from Babies.  Matt was hunting hard for the next hold on the obtuse arete:

…and a bit later, Rajiv pressed on, not “sending” but getting farther along the path:

My focus here was rather soft, though Rajiv’s wasn’t; his targeting of the next hold was exceptional, and landed him a yard of progress, a commendable feat in the Bouldering world.

Thanks to Ollie and my Sweet Sixteen for these shots.  I’m nothing without my tools.

Vicarious Thrills! November 14, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in climbing.
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I went back out to Farley Ledge this weekend to see if the lads from last weekend would make further progress on their bouldering “project.”  I might no longer be able to climb, but it still holds a powerful fascination for me, as well as an opportunity to expand my photographic bag of tricks.  Action sports photography is a whole ‘nother beast than nature photography!

Anyway, there were Pad-People everywhere, and it was cool – young and old folks (well, OK, mostly  young) hangin’ and chillin’, alternately relaxing and tearing it up to the best of their varied abilities.  I followed a group of half a dozen up the steep trail to Stereogram,  a vicious V10 problem which fights its way out the underbelly of an impressive boulder perched up near the top of the ledge.  Stereogram  has a reputation for being difficult to photograph, as it climbs out of a deep, dark hole into the light; much of the action occurs in the dim confines of a lithic Oubliette.

Here’s the general overview, for setting and scale, with a kid from Colorado emerging from the pit at the lower right:

I’m sorry not to have gotten his name, as he photographed well (long, elegant body positions and serious facial expressions.)

[Ed. – Tom Camillieri, thanks to Blake Cash]

Here’s a series of him working this set of moves:

That’s a really cool looking sequence.

A bit later I heard the sounds of climbers down below, where last week’s project had transpired.  I packed up quickly  and scooted down the steep trail, dancing from rock to rock, attentive to miss the dry leaves coating nearly everything; a misstep on such steep terrain would be nothing if not ugly.

And I was just in time to see Pete and Jason getting to work on the arete which had so engaged Breyton and Hayden the weekend before.  I wanted a different perspective than the over-and-up view I’d shot those lads with, so I set up a rope and rappelled into a position looking down the ridge at the action.

It worked.  I got a sense of the height, steepness and tenuousness of attachment which characterize this particular piece of stone, and an appreciation of why it remains unclimbed despite a decade of serious efforts by some very strong climbers.

Here’s Pete Clark putting a series of complex foot moves to good use, an instep scum to a powerful toe, all the while moving too quickly for my shutter speed, despite an ISO of 5000:

Pete makes the difficult look easy, and the impossible look hard.  It’s a gift few of us are given, and his humility is as impressive as his ability.

Jason Danforth put his calm to work as he found the hang-point at about the same spot:

This man’s stronger than dirt, and stands a good chance of sending this thing.

As darkness crawled up the valley walls, both of these dudes left happy with their progress.  Perhaps next time they visit it will all come together for them, and the “project” will get a name.

More Photos From The Edge. November 6, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature, climbing.
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Here are a couple more photos from Saturday’s “bouldering session” out at Farley Ledge, of which I was an observer rather than a participant.

I went there hoping to capture some essential quality of that activity rather than an overview of it, and at some point booted my ISO way up to 6,400, meaning that the photos would be “grainy,” but still possible in the waning light of a late afternoon in November.

Now, action photographs (and this ought to qualify as “action”) are normally shot at really fast shutter speeds to freeze the action, but in this case I wanted to call attention to a specific part of the photo, and didn’t care if the rest of it disappeared into the visual morass.

The results are indeed tightly focused on a small region of the photograph.  I’m not sure how they’ll translate to this low-fi Blogosphere world, but in the scaled-to-print world, they were more than satisfactory.

Anyway, here’s Breyton putting the moves on Babies With Rabies,  a notable V10 (difficulty rating) boulder problem at Farley.

The start, with both hands crimping a shallow hold on the belly of the beast:

…followed by a foot-hand exchange, with individual fingers making room for the incoming heel-hook as Breyton moved up the lithic swell:

It wasn’t really possible, in the low light of a November eve, to freeze this frenetic action, so I chose instead to go for the hand-foot switch, letting the rest of the photo soften a bit.

The overall effort of this attempt on Babies  warrants a photographic go in better light.  Maybe I’ll get an invitation to the party at some future date, as the “bouldering” season in these parts extends well into early winter.

Jon, Hayden, Breyton, thanks for your patience as I horned in on your community of people covering each others’ backs.  I wasn’t much help, unless one considers illumination as “help.”